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.<