Hansen Natural Corporation, parent company to Monster Energy Drink, has sent a cease-and-desist notice to small Vermont brewery Rock Art Brewery. It seems that the multi-million dollar corporation believes that American consumers will be confused between the name of its
high-fructose corn syrup 'energy' drink called Monster with a beer called Vermonster, a 10% alcohol by volume "American Barleywine."
UPDATE 2009.10.21: It appears as if the issue has been resolved: Vermonster remains. More from beernews.org.
The brewery has posted this account on its website: [I've redacted it somewhat for clarity.]
An attack has been launched on Matt and Renee of Rock Art Brewery.
September 14, 2009
An energy drink maker has issued a cease and desist order on THE VERMONSTER, brewed by Rock Art Brewery. The energy drink maker claims that consumers will likely be confused with the two products. Rock Art Brewery has the beer trademark to the Vermonster in the state of Vermont. Several trademark lawyers have unofficially advised the brewery that this is not an infringement issue, but clearly a nuisance lawsuit. The likelihood is that the brewery will lose, however, because it does not have the financial resources to fund the fight.
Large corporations in America are rarely shy about gaming the system to their advantage. But why would a large drinks corporation risk public opprobrium to take on such a small thing as this, showing a tin ear to potential (and now real) public relations problems?
There is, obviously, no public confusion as which drink is which, the legal standard that the courts use when deciding such matters. The names aren't really similar. Hansen's action seems to impugn the intelligence of American consumers.
Beer is an alcoholic beverage brewed from malted barley, hops (an herb), yeast, and water.
So-called energy drinks are manufactured from
methylxanthines (including caffeine), vitamin B and herbs. Other common ingredients are guarana, acai, and taurine, plus various forms of ginseng, maltodextrin, carbonated water, inositol, carnitine, creatine, glucuronolactone and ginkgo biloba. Some contain high levels of sugar, and many brands also offer artificially-sweetened 'diet' versions. The central ingredient in most energy drinks is caffeine.
So the question remains: why?
A clue might lie in this sentence from the Brattleboro Reformer report on the imbroglio:
Diane Reed, the lawyer who sent the letter, didn't immediately return an e-mail message seeking comment Monday.
Ah! Economic times have been tough for the rest of us. Ms. Reed and the legal team at Hansens apparently seem to have been suffering as well. Her bullying action? A billable hours stimulus plan.
There must be more to the story. After I initially posted this piece, I was called to task by a reader at Facebook, who wrote:
Not strictly an accurate portrayal. This action is to clear the way for a release of a Monster brand of energy drinks with added alcohol. Monster is made in a plant in North Carolina that also has a brewery in it. They know that the two products don't overlap as they stand, but could potentially cause confusion.
From the Rock Art's official response to Hansen's cease-and-desist letter:
As stated, Rock Art Brewery LLC. Is a bonded and federally permitted brewery legally using the name “THE VERMONSTER”. We are not infringing on your client’s trademark. After extensive thought on the issue, considering our rights to our name “THE VERMONSTER” and the unnecessary use of various court resources, I offered to meet your client halfway with a proposal. I offered to give up our rights to our name “THE VERMONSTER” in the energy drink category, as we are two separate markets, one energy drinks, the other alcoholic beverages. This was agreed to be a sensible proposal by various advisors who have classified this issue as one of a nuisance by nature.
Your response was that, “the energy drink category was never the concern to my client; it is that my client would now like to enter the alcoholic beverage market.” You indicated that your client would likely proceed with the infringement filings, but you would pass my offer on to them.
I await your client’s reasonable and common sense response.
There is another beverage called Monster: a 10% alcohol by volume beer brewed by the Brooklyn Brewery, which predates Monster Energy Drink from Hansen, and is sold throughout the US. If Hansen creates an alcoholic Monster, will Brooklyn have the grounds for its own lawsuit?
Some good-beer drinkers have called for a boycott of Monster Energy Drink. There's not much intersection between the ambits of 'craft' beer and 'energy' drinks, so a boycott might be more symbolic than practical, but ...
... to monster Hansen Corporation —as sportscaster Warner Wolf often exclaims— "Boo of the week!"
- More here: Boycott Monster Energy
- On Twitter, hash-marked with #boycottmonster.
- A Facebook group.
- A much more reasoned (and researched) post on the situation than mine, from Alan at A Good Beer Blog.
- Read about trademark confusion between a Georgia brewery and a Virginia brewpub (in the footnote to this blog post).