Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cascadia-gate - Is This Really a Consumer Issue?

I don't think I have ever seen a reaction as fierce and as widespread to any issue related to the local craft beer scene as I saw this past week in regards to what I like to now call Cascadia-gate.

It seemed, with some of the posts and comments I read on Facebook, reddit, etc., that some craft beer consumers took it personally that the term Cascadia had been trademarked in regards to "brewed alcoholic beverages namely ale and, malt liquor, stout, porter and lambic".

But, to tell you the truth, I don't really understand some of the venom and, quite frankly, the mob mentality that ensued after Barley Mowat posted the story. It was great to see those passionate about craft beer in BC finally band together and get vocal, and the force of their actions did prompt Steamworks to respond, even if that response was perceived by many to be inadequate and insincere, but really, how does this issue impact the consumer? Why all the anger, rage and name calling? If you read many of the comments and posts, when they were available to be read, it was obvious that some of those writing them really had no grasp on what this whole issue was about.

Yes, this story did warrant a response from those of us who are involved in the local craft beer community and/or passionate about their craft beer. And I applaud those who offered their opinions in intelligent and constructive ways, letting Eli Gershkovitch, owner of Steamworks, and his "Steam Team" know they were upset with Eli quietly telling local breweries, for reasons only he really understands, to stop using the term "Cascadian" Dark Ale (CDA). But, let's face it, he was not telling them to stop brewing that particular style of beer or impeding consumer access to CDAs. No, just last night I drank some North Shore Black IPA, brewed by North Vancouver nano-brewery Bridge Brewing Co. Black IPA is another term used to describe CDA. A few weeks back I enjoyed Parallel 49's  Black Christmas , described, a little tongue in cheek, by P49 as a Christmas Dark Ale (CDA) due to the trademark hubbub which was common knowledge among the local craft industry even before Chuck posted his original "The Grinch Who Stole Cascadia" story.

The Black Christmas and North Shore Black IPA ales may have been described in different terms, omitting the term Cascadian, but, at least in my humble opinion, they are in fact CDAs. And it shows that local breweries are already finding ways around the trademark issue. Just labeling a beer as a CDA, without spelling it out, will alert consumers that the beer is a Cascadian Dark Ale. Those looking for that style of beer will know what CDA means and those who don't probably will not know what a Cascadian Dark Ale is and would have to ask for an explanation anyway.

It is one of the reasons I, as CAMRA Vancouver President, have not come out with an official stance on the whole issue because I do not see this as a consumer advocacy issue. As president, I can say CAMRA Vancouver would like to see craft breweries working together to increase their share of the market place so that we, the consumers, have greater access to more craft beers, but whether that beer is called CDA, Black IPA, or something different, is a battle for others to fight. This is an industry-related conflict, one that, brewer's associations representing the breweries and homebrewing groups may want to tackle as they are the ones brewing and naming their beers CDAs.

No, I personally don't agree with Eli that he should be able to protect his trademark in relation to other breweries using the term Cascadian Dark Ale and I voiced that opinion to Walter Cosman, President of Steamworks Brewing Company, last summer. As pointed out by Chad on his blog Hoplog, used in that way, Cascadian is a descriptor for a style of beer. If breweries were calling their beers Cascadia Lager, or Cascadia IPA, I could see Eli's point, but when they are using Cascadia in reference to describing the CDA style, I think the trademark infringement has no traction. Cascadia Dark Ale in that sense is like using lager, stout or India Pale Ale. Many breweries are now trademarking the names of their beers to protect their branding. But protecting a brand and protecting a term that describes something, in my opinion, are two different things.

But what do I know about the law and my opinion obviously is not one Eli Gershkovitch agrees with.

And no, I personally don't buy "Team Steam's" assertion that Eli's actions were, "the best course of action so as to preserve  the integrity of the name 'Cascadia' for true craft breweries not for large multinational breweries." And no, I did not buy the spin put out in the response from Steamworks painting the picture that Eli and Steamworks are David fighting the evil Goliath, in the form of Molson Canadian, or that Eli is the benevolent but misunderstood defender of the craft beer community who, out of the goodness of his heart, would allow other craft breweries to buy the license to use his trademarked term Cascadia. 

I do hope Eli finds a way to save face and back down on this whole issue and I think opposition from other craft breweries and consumers in general is essential, but I would ask that if you are voicing dissent you do it in a constructive and respectful way. Calling Eli names and making statements like "Steamworks suck" on-line is only going to anger him and make him dig in his heels. But if enough people send him well written and well-thought out, intelligent communications about why what he is doing is wrong, maybe, just maybe he will see the light and truly act in good faith as a stand-up member of the BC craft beer community

In the meantime, we as consumers can continue, unimpeded, to enjoy our CDAs even if the breweries do not use the term Cascadian Dark Ale until this whole issue gets cleared up.


  1. I'd like to point out that the brand that Steamworks trademarked was Cascadia Cream Ale, whereas the beer style is always (to my knowledge) written as Cascadian dark ale, as in not a beer named Cascadia but a beer from Cascadia. It would be like Vancouver Island Brewery telling other brewers to stop saying that their beer is from Vancouver Island.

  2. Okayy...

    Here's why it's a consumer issue:

    Which do you think is more likely -- that Deschutes and HUB will change the name, the label and the marketing of their beer to respect Steamworks' trademark, or that they will stop exporting their beer to Canadian markets?

    Brewed Awakening (The Province's beer blog) has already raised this as an issue:

    "This may not be a watershed moment, though it’s sparked off plenty of debate both in Canada and in the U.S. , where breweries may have to change the name of their beer before exporting it to Canada – or may not bother exporting it at all."

    You come across as more than a little disingenuous with this position.

  3. Thanks David for covering my first point for me. If decreased selection as a result of this is not something a consumer advocacy group should be addressing, then maybe I don't understand CAMRA's definition of consumer.

    The second point is that the name for this style of beer has not been decided internationally yet. Yes they haven't officially adopted CDA as a name, but the debate goes on. If the global beer community adopts that name then consumers coming or visiting our market will potentially be confused. Similarly beer websites and media outside of our immediate market are also likely to use the term causing further confusion. Until the style is officially named, options need to be left open.

    Clear and accurate product labelling is very much a consumer issue. Both for long time local consumers and those entirely new to our market.

  4. Thanks all for your comments.

    The issue of whether or not US breweries stop shipping up here if they get Cease & Desist orders is yet to be seen. As I pointed out, if accessibility had been impeded this would, in my opinion, be a front-and-centre consumer issue, and CAMRA would be focusing on it if the membership felt it was important. As of this time accessibility has not been impeded as far as I know. With the limited resources CAMRA Vancouver has, I feel there are issues closer to home to focus on other than whether or not a few US breweries may or may not stop shipping CDA north of the 49th.

    I have also written every which way I can, I do not agree with this trademark extending to a descriptor of a beer style and I do think that needs to be challenged, but that is not something consumers can do really. It is up to the industry to decide if this is worth fighting and then organize and fight it. It may be the best thing for our local industry if one of the US breweries gets hit with a C&D and gets pissed off because they are more likely to organize and do something about it.

    I am quite surprised at the passion for the Cascadian Dark Ale name for the style of beer. I can tell you that I certainly had not heard of it until a few years ago and I would dare to bet the majority of those who are all up in arms about protecting the CDA name also were not aware of it before three or four years ago.

    As for what CAMRA is all about, I think my track record as president and actually campaigning and advocating speaks for itself. If this issue gets to a point where decreased selection is in fact a reality in regards to this issue, you can be sure, if I am involved, CAMRA Vancouver will weigh in as an organization. Until then, as I posted, I encourage all out members to write Eli and Steamworks individually to voice, in a respectful and constructive manner, why this whole trademark issue, in regards to CDA as a style, should be dropped

  5. There will not be an uproar from US breweries about shipping CDAs to our market. They will silently decide it is not worth the effort and ship the beers to equally thirsty but less difficult markets. They won't miss the sales, only the consumer will miss out. For a small business to decide to deal with the hassles of fighting this for the consumers is unlikely. It becomes an issue of decreased selection the moment someone has to ask "is it worth it?". This has probably already happened as the issue is trending. Publicly clearing something like this up is the only way to remove stigma.

    If we want a pint to be only called a pint when it's a pint then establishments need to be legally allowed to label it as such. Likewise they or breweries need to be able to call a Cascadian Dark Ale what it is, if such becomes the name commonly used.

    3-4 years ago I would't have been upset if I was told the Wii-U was being blocked from coming to Canada. Practically no one had heard of it. Today, I would be pretty upset. So would the retailers likely to be seeing customers go south of the border to get it.

    That the style is in it's infancy is all the more reason to protect it, whatever it ends up being called.

    Keep up the good work

  6. I do hear where you are coming from Chester. And I am not in disagreement that breweries should be able to accurately label their beers.

    If the style is officially adopted as Cascadian Dark Ale, the trademark infringement issue could get very interesting. But how is a beer style officially adopted, in a legal sense, I would ask.

    Here in Canada, accurately describing & labeling beer has not really a legal priority if you look at Alexander Keith`s India Pale Ale as an example. I`m not agreeing that breweries should be able to mislead consumers, in fact I am 100% against misrepresentation, but there seems to be no laws in place regarding beer styles and accurately labeling beers. In fact, as you know, breweries received an exemption in regards to having to list ingredients on their labels.

    Maybe that should be the starting point for CAMRA & the craft beer industry (breweries, LRSs, importers, distributors) in regards to this labeling and descriptor issues. Having ingredients properly listed, alcohol contents accurately listed, styles and descriptors accurately labeled. The craft beer industry needs to stand up for itself and fight for what they need to fight for. Every battle is not a consumer issue to be fought without support of the craft beer industry itself. A proper craft beer association in this province would help immensely in galvanizing BC`s craft breweries in regards to important issues like trademarking, labeling, taxation, etc.

    As for my comments about CDAs being a relatively new style: my comments were not meant to minimize the idea or the style, but were meant to get people thinking as to why there is this romantic ideal that CDAs are a traditional style of beer from Cascadia with a long history.

    Yes, it is a great name and a great descriptor of the style, but the style is one that is not steeped in history as as many of those commenting would leave you to believe. The region of Cascadia as an independent region, yes, that idea has been around for quite some time and it does have some history and romanticism attached to it, but the term Cascadian Dark Ales, much like the term craft beer itself, has basically come out of no where the past few years.

    Once again thanks for adding to the conversation and offering up your comments, which are always welcome here.


  7. I agree with David and Chester. This is a consumer issue in terms of both potentially limiting product selection and causing confusion with respect to product labelling. And when you identify potential problems ahead of time, do you wait around for them to manifest themselves before you do anything? No.

    As for the impassioned reaction of consumers against Steamworks, I think this speaks to how important a company's behaviour and values are to them. Many craft beer drinkers see themselves as members and advocates for a movement that is anti-corporatist. Therefore, when any entity threatens the progress of the movement or community, reaction is swift.

    There is a difference between changing the behaviour of a business and that of government. When the former is faced with a sudden loss of revenue, they will rapidly look to remedy the situation. The latter, on the other hand, can be immobile unless faced with an election loss, the promise of choice political campaign contributions, or an angry mob.

    On a final note, Cascadian Dark Ales did not come out of nowhere. They were born in Cascadia! This is also why there is a strong reaction to protect the name for use as a style because it acknowledges the birthplace and the region that popularized this hoppy elixir. As a young style, there will naturally be a messy debate as to what it should be called. The debate does not end with the BJCP or GABF.

  8. Once again, I agree with Chester and David as well in regards to limiting access to craft beer is a consumer issue. I just do not think it is a CAMRA Vancouver issue.

    The list of craft breweries trademarking is growing and gone are the romantic days of the local craft beer industry. It is going more "corporate" in many ways whether the consumer wants it or not. Do we take a stance against all trademarking as it may negatively impact consumers in future?

    CAMRA Vancouver getting involved with some official campaign in this case is more complicated than it sounds. When CAMRA took on corporate "supporter" members, it put itself in a very difficult position.

    Prime example is right here.

    How does CAMRA police their corporate supporters business practices and ethics? Should CAMRA, to show Eli and Steamworks their displeasure, cancel their memberships,and advise members to not support the brew pub, brewery or Rogue Wet bar because they disagree with Eli's trademarking of Cascadia?

    Where does CAMRA stop with this type of action?

    We have many corporate members who act unethically. Some licensees charge craft breweries to secure tap space in their bars & restaurants which is illegal. We have had corporate members make exclusivity deals with licensees which restricts the consumers access to beers. We have some craft breweries who bribe licensees to have their beers on tap. We have licensees who misrepresent their serving sizes.

    All of these things restrict access to local beers and negatively impact consumers.

    Does CAMRA make public the names of these businesses, list
    their indiscretions and create consumer campaigns against them?

    If the answer is yes, then CAMRA has to make radical changes and be prepared for the fallout.

    If this protection of the name Cascadian Dark Ale is so important to the industry and if the industry wants to stand up for itself for once, they should all, both north and south of the border, organize and all brew a Cascadian Dark Ale and label it so. They should then pool their resources and fight this ridiculous stance Eli is taking. They should help protect the consumers that support them with a passion that is second to none and that puts money in their pockets.

    The title of the post is "Cascadia-gate - Is it Really A consumer Issue?" A question, not a statement.

    I have identified, in my post, that consumers should be concerned and encouraged, as I have, for individuals to contact Eli or Steamworks management to voice their displeasure, but I stand by my stance it is not a "CAMRA Vancouver issue" at this time. There has been no restriction of access to any beer at this point. If CAMRA wants to fight the battle of eliminating restriction in regards to accessing beers, there are many, many problems that actually exist that actually do restrict access to craft beers by local consumers that can be attacked.

    As for the comments that allude to me saying Cascadian Dark Ales have come out of nowhere, I am wondering where that came from. I never commented it came out of nowhere. My comments were that this style of beer is still emerging and that the "historic" and romantic attachment to Cascadian Dark Ale as a style is a little premature and few in BC, to this day, beyond the small core of craft beer hard cores, even know what it is whether it is labeled Cascadian Dark Ale or not.

    I feel that maybe my stance has been misunderstood and I encourage people to go back and read all I have written about this subject. I am okay with others disagreeing with my opinion and my stance as CAMRA president and I encourage all CAMRA Vancouver members who feel this is definitely a CAMRA Vancouver issue to come out to the AGM in January and voice, to the new 2013 executive, their desire for an organized campaign against Eli and Steamworks. I can tell all that I have received as much support for the stance I have taken as I have opposition.

    This is a complicated issue, not as simple as some would lead others to believe.