They Grow Tetchy

Is the honeymoon over?  Every few days we get stories of breweries butting heads:
Last month, Tony Magee, owner of California's Lagunitas Brewing Company, sent out a series of Tweets that took exception to the release and marketing of a new brew that directly encroaches on its turf. The brew in question is Samuel Adams' Rebel IPA, a “West Coast Style” beer that’s not unlike Lagunitas’s most popular beverage. What’s more, Magee said that Koch and the Boston Beer Company was crossing the unspoken craft brew line by putting Lagunitas and other brands in the crosshairs.
“Learned that SamAdams’ Rebel IPA marketing plans incl specifically targeting our biz as well as other craft IPA. Flattering & sad, it is,” Magee wrote in one Tweet. “BB specifically told our distribs in common that they were going t TAKE r tap handles everywhere they could,” he explained in another. “That’s a directed attack … Imagine someone threatening your children…”
Today it's two Oregon breweries, and they're battling over the Apocalypse: 
The news that Apocalypse Brewing Co. has renamed itself “Opposition Brewing Company” is making the rounds now that it has become official. The change stems from a lengthy trademark dispute with fellow Oregon brewery, 10 Barrel Brewing Company, which has a beer named “Apocalypse.”
There follows a long and aggrieved statement by Opposition about the dastardly behavior of 10 Barrel.  "Indeed, at least in the short run," they write, "David does not always defeat Goliath and your small local brewery could stand up no longer to a corporate giant."

I bring this up as a kind of echo to my earlier post about Goose Island.   What we're seeing is the maturation of the craft beer segment of the market, one that has a peculiar and particular self-image.  For decades now, craft breweries have been largely collaborative and craft brewing has seemed like a wonderful little collectivist world--everyone helping one another.  It wasn't faked, either--outside the job, brewers hang out together, take vacations together, and do genuinely like each other.  The market has been in a long, durable period of growth, and breweries didn't experience competition as one of their significant challenges.  It was more like a footrace, where companies had their own personal records they were trying to beat.  But that is a kind of peculiar thing in the business world--ultimately, breweries are not collaborators, they're competitors.

I don't know that we're exiting the collaborative phase yet, but these skirmishes are only the beginning.  The craft breweries with national ambitions are going to begin to encounter the same issues Miller, Coors, and Anheuser-Busch have faced for decades.  National markets are difficult to attain, and even more difficult to maintain.  It's pretty clear Stone, Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, and New Belgium aren't all going to be able to sell IPAs in every market--where they'll be competing against local IPAs, too.  There will be winners and losers. 

The battle over names is likely to be a really big deal, too.  That's one of the problems when you have 2500 breweries and each of them is making twenty beers.  It is literally a rule of trademark law that breweries must protect their marks or lose them, so lawsuits (or cease-and-desist letters) over common names like Apocalypse are going to be the norm.  It does create strange situations where the language of craft brewing--the little guy taking on the giant--gets recast so that even relatively little guys like 10 Barrel play the role of overlord.  Probably not good PR for anyone.

Can craft brewing retain its collaborative bonhomie in a market that gets tighter and more crowded?  Probably the better question is, how long can it retain its collaborative bonhomie?