Real Ale in legal battle with Fireman’s Brew over beer name

Photo by Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman. Real Ale's Firemans #4, left, is easily the brewery's most sold beer in Texas, allowing it to branch out and offer a wide range of beers.

Photo by Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman. Real Ale’s Firemans #4, left, is easily the brewery’s most sold beer in Texas, allowing it to branch out and offer a wide range of beers.

One of the Austin area’s biggest beer makers is battling with a California brewery in court after its arrival into Texas earlier this summer.

Real Ale Brewing, which makes one of Texas’ most popular and well-known craft beers, Firemans #4, sued Los Angeles-based Fireman’s Brew in Texas federal court last week for infringing on its trademark rights, according to the lawsuit. Fireman’s Brew is a name remarkably similar to Firemans #4, which Real Ale believes “in commerce is confusingly similar to Real Ale’s Firemans” mark. Fireman’s Brew also has a red logo, the same color as Firemans #4 packaging.

And one of the beers that Fireman’s Brew is now selling — or has plans to sell — in all the major cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas and Houston, is being marketed as a blonde ale, the same style as Firemans #4. Real Ale is seeking to have the court prevent Fireman’s Brew from offering its beers in the state.

“Defendant’s infringing use of Real Ale’s Firemans mark has caused confusion, mistake and/or deception and caused the public to believe that the products offered by (the) defendant are the same as those of Real Ale,” according to the lawsuit.

The text of the lawsuit notes that Real Ale learned of Fireman’s Brew’s arrival in June, sending a cease-and-desist letter to the brewery “to withdraw from the Texas market. But instead of taking Real Ale’s letter seriously,” the lawyers for Fireman’s Brew “sought to dispute Real Ale’s 14 years of Firemans branding.” When Real Ale sent back proof of having held the trademark since 2002, when Firemans 4 first went to market, the Blanco brewery did not hear back from the defendants, as the complaint notes.

Real Ale, classified as one of the state’s few regional breweries with more than 61,000 barrels of beer per year, plans to continue selling its beer exclusively in Texas. Fireman’s Brew, according to the complaint, was founded 9 years after Real Ale.

These are just the latest breweries to become ensnared in legal battles over similar-sounding names and branding. Trademark disputes have become a major problem of late in the industry because of the skyrocketing growth of craft beer and the more than 4,000 U.S. breweries clamoring for shelf space and drinkers’ attentions. Differentiating themselves through distinctive branding is one crucial way that breweries can get noticed.

Earlier this year, a lawsuit between Austin’s Oasis, Texas Brewing and Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing was resolved over the beer name “Slow Ride,” which Oasis has been using for its pale ale and New Belgium had been hoping to use nationwide for its session IPA. Although Oasis is able to continue use of the name in Texas — the only state where it currently distributes — New Belgium has the rights to the name everywhere else.

This case of trademark infringement is a little different. New Belgium still sells the session IPA in Texas, calling it by the beer style rather than the clever name, but if Real Ale is able to win its lawsuit, Fireman’s Brew will be unable to sell its portfolio of beers here. The brewery, founded by two California firemen, offers an amber ale and a German-style double bock in addition to the pilsner-style lager mentioned in Real Ale’s complaint. The Fireman’s Brew beers are called the Redhead, the Brunette and the Blonde, respectively.

Fireman’s Brew declined to comment for this story.

“Real Ale Brewing Co., a family owned Texas brewery, has spent more than a decade developing and promoting the Firemans brand throughout Texas,” Real Ale owner Brad Farbstein said in an official statement. “We have every intention to preserve the integrity of our brands under the protection of the law.”


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