Federally Approved, Geographically Specific Beer Styles Make a Comeback

Publicity stunt or legitimate grasp at a new beer style? Either way, success was achieved by Spokane, Washington’s No-Li Brewhouse, which announced federal approval for a new style and classification of beer called “Spokane-Style.” The big question–what is a “Spokane-Style” beer? According to the newly relaunched brewery, previously known as Northern Lights Brewhouse,“‘Spokane Style’ beer must be brewed and packaged in Spokane and use all ingredients exclusively from the region. And, of course, all of No-Li Brewhouse styles are 100% Spokane-Style.” The press release left me confused and disappointed. For one thing, the feds don’t approve beer styles the last I checked; that would be left to an organization like the Brewers Association. Second, this is the first example of a prediction I recently made coming true–the trademarking of beer styles. I reached out to No-Li Brewhouse’s Co-Founder John Bryant for clarification. “No-Li Brewhouse received federal approval by the Advertising, Labeling and Formulation Division of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for ‘Spokane-Style.’ It is a designated style of beer that is defined by the Spokane point of origin.” OK, well that is kind of ingenious.

When filing beer labels you must receive federal approval from the TTB, aka the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and they require all malt beverages to be clearly labeled in a handful of style designations. If you have ever registered a label and, for example, called it simply “Gose” or “Gratzer” or one of hundreds of kinds of beers that the TTB does not recognize, then it would be rejected. This has lead to breweries simply pinning on a catch all phrase like ‘blah blah blah…Ale’. No,-Li has cleverly applied and received approval for a listing of its own. How the brewery has done this and what effect could it have on the industry is a better question.

In late November 2012 I wrote about the beer trademark wars, specifically over the style terms of “Cascadian” and “Nitro” and speculated that this could lead to regional-specific beer terminology, much like tequila is only legally produced in Mexico and champagne comes from a specific region of France. In the future, brewers could claim their own regional specific style and legally enforce against anyone else using the term, such as a Cascadian Dark Ale not made in the Cascadian region. No-Li Brewhouse has made a huge step into making this prediction a reality but in an unexpected way. Instead of trademarking “Spokane-Style” like Steamworks Brewing had done with “Cascadia,” the brewery has registered it with the TTB as a geographically distinct style.

Section 7.24 of the TTB’s Class and Type regulations in paragraph “F” states:

Geographical names for distinctive types of malt beverages (other than names found under paragraph (g) of this section to have become generic) shall not be applied to malt beverages produced in any place other than the particular region indicated by the name unless (1) in direct conjunction with the name there appears the word “type” or the word “American”, or some other statement indicating the true place of production in lettering substantially as conspicuous as such name, and (2) the malt beverages to which the name is applied conform to the type so designated. The following are examples of distinctive types of beer with geographical names that have not become generic; Dortmund, Dortmunder, Vienna, Wien, Wiener, Bavarian, Munich, Munchner, Salvator, Kulmbacher, Wurtzburger, Pilsen (Pilsener and Pilsner): Provided, That notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, beer which is produced in the United States may be designated as “Pilsen,” “Pilsener,” or “Pilsner” without further modification, if it conforms to such type.


So the owners of No-Li Brewhouse have effectively turned “Spokane-Style” into as recognized a term as “Vienna” or “Bavarian,” at least as far as the federal government is concerned. And before I or anyone else can accuse No-Li of doing this only for its own financial gain, I am told they passed on legally trademarking the term so that all brewers in Spokane may utilize the designation as long as they meet the following criteria:

· Brewed in Spokane
· Packaged in Spokane
· Made by Spokane residents

· Made with ingredients from the region

More from No-Li’s press release on why they chose to go this route:

With craft beer drinkers driving the trend, source of origin is important to both customers and retailers. The craft vs. crafty beer wars have recently made this a central issue. Source of origin is driving increased demand for No-Li across the United States with regional chains. No-Li can now be found in Washington, D.C., Whole Foods Markets; the top largest liquor stores in Colorado; Safeway, QFC and Top Foods in its home state of Washington; and Super 1, Yokes, Rosauer’s and Safeway Stores in Northern Idaho.

“No-Li’s brewing origin is the Inland N.W., and as we like to say, it’s zero miles from here!” said Damon Scott, No-Li’s new lead brewer. “Actually, all ingredients are from within 300 miles of the Brewhouse. No-Li has etched ‘local’ into its core. And, as the American craft beer consumer demands source of origin, Spokane-Style represents something bigger than the city itself.”

Part of me wants to applaud No-Li’s creative efforts, but the other worries that we will now see a flood of newly official regionally specific beer styles, and I am not sure if that’s a good thing. This is another watermark in the craft beer industry beginning to achieve maturity and grow as an industry, though I fear that this means a restructuring of the industry not necessarily for the good or the “crafty”. For my local readers, who do you think will be the first to petition the TTB to recognize “Portlandia-Style” beer?

About No-Li Brewhouse
What was formerly known as the Northern Lights Brewing Company was renamed No-Li Brewhouse last April. Co-founder and master brewer, Mark Irvin, and craft beer industry veteran, Bryant, both with deep roots in Spokane, are the force behind the company. In addition to Spokane, No-Li is now distributed in Colorado, Maryland and Washington D.C. No-Li’s Born & Raised spirit reflects a deep-seeded connection from the nation’s capital, to the Front Range of Colorado and across the Continental Divide into the great Pacific Northwest.

No-Li produces 22-ounce bottles as well as draft brands in five styles: Silent Treatment Pale, Born & Raised IPA, Crystal Bitter, Jet Star Imperial IPA and Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout. For more information, visit http://www.nolibrewhouse.com.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com


  • Michael
    Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:52 PM

    I’m not sure I would call a 300 mile radius “local”. Regional would seem a bit more apt. Hood River and Seattle, for instance are both within 300 miles of Spokane.

    • Anonymous
      Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:55 AM

      It’s kind of too much. I mean Spokane-Style? Really? The thing that makes a region style specific to me is a real committment to a beer type honed over years and historically owing to a water profile or yeast strain, and maybe more loosely hop categories. Modernly, one could say perhaps San Diego-Style Pale Ale instead of Double IPA is the closest thing we have to a truly worthy region specific name. But otherwise, this seems kind of silly. I mean I wouldn’t hold Spokane up next to heavyweights like Vienna, Berlin, Pilsen Munich, Dortmund, Cologne, Trappist Ales. That said, American craft brewing has advanced so far that maybe it’s not unfair to have appellations along the lines of Cascade etc. to denote a bit of a larger region. Otherwise, if it helps sell beer locally, good for them. But just don’t expect people to take it too seriously.