Hey, Where’s That Beer From?

If it says its from Hawaii and it’s actually not, maybe you can sue.

Some enterprising beer aficionados have sued Kona Brewing Company because apparently the beer they thought was from Hawaii is not actually from Hawaii — it’s from New Hampshire.

Craft Brew Alliance is the parent company of Kona Brewing Company, a beer brand that allegedly intentionally misled “beer buyers into believing that the brand’s products — with names like Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, Wailua Wheat Ale, and Hanalei Island IPA — are local beers made in Hawaii.” Those beers are not made in Hawaii. They are brewed in places like Oregon and Washington and Tennessee and New Hampshire. Hence, the class-action suit.

Misleading the consumer is admittedly bad, but there is one tiny detail: nowhere on the beer bottle or label does it say “Made in Hawaii.”

“The entire brand image of Kona Brewing Company — including the name itself — revolves around its purported Hawaii origins,” the lawsuit says. “Craft Brew ubiquitously uses Hawaii imagery, references, metaphors, and outright misstatements in order to cultivate this image.”
Though the phrase “Made in Hawaii” is not anywhere on the products, the lawsuit contends that language like “Liquid Aloha” and “Always Aloha,” hula dancers swaying on the beach, and imagery of a surfer preparing to paddle out into the water on labels and packaging, as well as an image embedded on bottles in the shape of the Hawaiian island chain lead consumers to think of the beers as Hawaiian.

There is an actual Kona-Kailua Brewery — they make 12,000 barrels of their beer and sell it on Hawaii — but the bottled and draft beer sold on the mainland is made elsewhere. Partner breweries send samples back to Hawaii for testing, but apparently, it’s still misleading enough for a lawsuit.

The misleading nature of the branding is something to consider, I guess, but the issue here is provenance. If you buy something thinking it’s from someplace specific, only to find out that it’s from somewhere else entirely — Belgian chocolates that are actually made in Seacaucus — the origin story is much less exciting. Did you pay a premium for those Belgian chocolates because you thought they were from Belgium? That’s another story.

The Case of the Hawaiian Beer That’s Actually From New Hampshire, however, feels less worrisome. There’s no upcharge for the beer because it’s from Hawaii, and there is nothing distinctly “Hawaiian” about it. Hula dancers on the beach and a surfer preparing to paddle out into the breaks are Hawaiian by association, not by actuality. The branding here isn’t even that creative. It’s like slapping the Hollywood sign on a beer label to denote California or putting a giant bag of potatoes on a beer brewed in Idaho — clichéd.

But provenance matters, to some, and maybe now there will be a settlement, for all those wronged by a six-pack of Lavaman Red Ale. Do you care where your beer comes from? If someone served you a hoppy something or other from Vermont but you found out it was really made in California, how much would it matter?

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