Good beer bar indicators, Bad beer laws and the ugly truth about trademarks

This Week in Craft Beer

What makes a good beer bar?

It is so funny, and also pretty cool, that we’ve gotten to the point where we can talk about what makes a good beer bar. Fewer than 10 years ago the answer was that it had Samuel Adams on tap. Today we have an outrageously high standard for what counts as a good beer bar.

What’s interesting is the effort not to make your bar the “same old thing.” I appreciate the notion, but on the same front I would like to know what to expect. That’s the kicker, though. I don’t want to be dizzied by the selection, but that is probably about me. I’m rarely sure what I want and get lost in the beer aisle as it is. On the other side, my podcast partner Doug can’t have a long enough beer list.

The new tip I have for people like me who get overwhelmed by a menu is to pick something right out of the gate and pretty much at random. Be surprised. While you’re drinking whatever you get, you can read the menu at your leisure.

I’m also not spoiled enough to care too deeply about selection in the face of ambience. For me, selection comes in neatly behind whether there is a dart board or a foosball table or a quiet place to hang out. That’s the critical stuff. Of course I can only say that now that every place has at least a few craft beers on.

You know what’s as sexy as craft beer? Trademark infringement.

I have learned more about trademark infringement in the last six years as a beer reporter than in the previous decade as a business reporter. The short version is it is a boring grownup thing. The longer version is it makes it hard to be cool and also be a good business person.

The way trademark infringement works is, you have to defend every conceivable challenge or you can lose all rights to your brand. When I did (shameless plug) Delaware Beer I had to sign an agreement saying that, while I had the right to take photos for use in the book and even for private sale, I didn’t have the right to make Dogfish Head products from my photos (DFH beer koozies, say).

When this started happening a lot in my life, I looked into it more. There are people who actually look around for trademarks that have gone out of use, and then just shoot the corporation a letter saying they’re taking it over. It’s kind of insane.

That said, I’ve had brewer friends on the other side of this who actually had a legitimate claim but couldn’t afford a lawyer to back it up and had to change the name of their brewery. It’s tricky, which is what makes in more grown up and less punk rock.

The shortsightedness continues

I’ve written a bunch of stories about Maryland’s new beer bill which has passed in its less-odious-but-still-pretty-crappy form. Nothing changes for current breweries, except they can brew a little more beer. Oc course, they can’t brew as much as they want to brew because of how crooked Maryland alcohol politics is.

In other more developed parts of the country, towns see breweries like the ones Maryland just essentially banned enticing people to move into what would normally be considered less desirable areas.

I only point this out because it was one of my main arguments against the bill. If you want to have a brewery and food truck combo, but not a full on liquor license or brew pub Maryland wants you to take your business elsewhere, which is too bad.