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Business Fri Jul 08 2011

Anheuser-Busch InBev to Play Telephone with 312?

312_212_beer.jpgGoose Island's 312 Urban Wheat Ale is one of the brewery's most popular beers, so it's no wonder that new owner Anheuser-Busch InBev would be interested in expanding its distribution. The ability for Goose Island to ramp up production of 312 and other beers to meet demand in East Coast markets was cited as a major factor in the decision. And 312 is a very popular beer, so it makes perfect sense to bring it to as many cities as possible. What you might not have seen coming is how Anheuser-Busch plans to do it.

According to Craft Business Daily and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the company has filed for trademarks for the area codes of 14 cities: 202 (Washington, D.C.), 214 (Dallas), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 305 (Miami), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 415 (San Francisco), 602 (Phoenix), 615 (Nashville), 619 (San Diego), 702 (Las Vegas), 704 (Charlotte) and 713 (Houston). Through some further searching on the US Patent & Trademark Office website , I found an additional trademark application for 215 (Philadelphia). Interestingly, neither Goose Island nor Anheuser-Busch have trademarked 312 -- the closest Goose Island gets is "312 Urban Wheat."

Anheuser-Busch did not respond to an inquiry about the company's plans for the trademarks, other than to confirm the applications. Under trademark law, the beverage giant has three years to use the marks on beer or risk losing the claim. A search for other area code trademarks in the beer category turned up a handful registered to Connecticut-based Stony Creek Brewery, LLC. The brewery seems to be nonexistent other than the name and its trademarks, which include 203 (Bridgeport, CT), 401 (Providence, RI), 516 (Long Island/Nassau County, NY), 617 (Boston), 860 (Hartford, CT) and 917 (New York, NY cell phones). It does not appear any of these have been brought to market.

It's possible that this is simply a strategic move, planning for potential brand extensions which may or may not have any connection to Goose Island's 312 brand. These city brews need not follow the 312 template; each could be developed to match local tastes. In 2006 Anheuser-Busch created two beers as part of a contest in Ohio and New England; the company brewed the winners in its regional breweries in Columbus and Merrimack, New Hampshire. A new city series could follow suit, through a combination of its regional breweries and acquisitions like Goose Island and Latrobe Brewing in Pennsylvania.

Reactions are mixed in markets around the country. In St. Louis, local beer drinkers seemed unsurprised by their resident macrobrewery's move. In Houston, the consensus seems to be that it's a cynical marketing strategy aimed at weakening the growing local craft brewing scene. Brock Wagner, the founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, said "Somebody [in the brewery] asked if they need to put 011 in front because of their foreign ownership." Buffalo's "nanobrewery" Community Beer Works joked that it had registered its home town's 716 area code -- and Rochester's 585 for good measure.

Eddie Glick, publisher of the local beer blog Beer Dorks, said in an email, "Frankly, it makes a mockery of 'drink local.' What makes it local to someone in St. Louis or Nashville? Naming it after a f*cking area code? Sounds like something cooked up in a creative conference room by copywriters who don't know or care about beer. I can see some craft beer people not caring and giving it a chance. Not everyone has as strict a set of beer morals as those who are dedicated to drinking locally brewed craft beer. Some people only care what it tastes like."

Anheuser-Busch Trademark Application for "412"

 

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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