News & Updates

Two Hearts, One Trademark and a Homebrew

So … we just received a letter from an attorney representing one of our favorite craft breweries; this letter informed us that we need to change the name of our Three Hearted Ale kit in a hurry. We’d love to hear your suggestions!

Yup. Bell’s Brewery sent our friends at Northern Brewer a cease and desist letter regarding the their Three Hearted Ale kit, a recipe kit styled after Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.

Bell’s owns the trademark for Two Hearted Ale and as such is charged with protecting that mark from others that might dilute or tarnish that name. Most of the time, trademark issues aren’t purely black and white, as is the case with the Three Hearted Ale kit. Bell’s (or rather their lawyer(s)) decide what they see as a threat to the mark and what they see as something that they can let slide. As The Gambler once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, [and]] know when to fold ’em…”

In Bell’s case, they may have been better off just folding. Though Northern Brewer’s Facebook post was extremely kind, others comments haven’t been so kind, with some even suggesting a boycott of Bell’s beer. I understand Bell’s position, but not without a dose of skepticism. On the PR side, it looks just plain ugly watching a large and well-regarded brewery go after perhaps the best homebrew retailer in the country. It make me wonder if they weighed the negative publicity before sending the letter.

On the upside, our friend’s at Northern Brewer will no doubt receive plenty of free press on the issue and no doubt a little business as well. Bell’s, on the other hand, might want to take a breather and re-read Hemmingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” again.

“Nick slipped off his pack and lay down in the shade. He lay on his back and looked up into the pine trees. His neck and back and the small of his back rested as he stretched. The earth felt good against his back. He looked up at the sky, through the branches, and then shut his eyes. He opened them and looked up again. There was a wind high up in the branches. He shut his eyes again and went to sleep.”

Update: Here’s a link to Bell’s position on the issue (Thanks Ben). It’s certainly kind, though it somewhat reads like it was written by a lawyer, go figure.


  1. Ben says:

    Bell’s just posted their official response:

  2. Ben says:

    This kit has been around for 10 years. Why care now?

    Oakshire Brewing created a commercially available “Three Hearted Ale” this fall. It was a single batch release. Bell’s didn’t seem to notice or mind.

    Bell’s also requested an extension last week to oppose a trademark application for “Third Street,” an unreleased beer from Cold Spring Brewing in Minnesota. Guess it’s too much like their Third Coast.

  3. Ben says:

    Always seems funny when you know these CEOs aren’t lawyers and they put out something in legalese that reads like something from a court document and they expect people to read it and think it’s a heart felt sincere response. If you’re looking to make a response to calm the storm you’re started in the social media sphere, I think a true honest response will go much farther with readers than some overly formal letter to lawyers who may have questions.

  4. Andy s says:

    Well to that response I will not drink Bell’s beer for awhile….to me its total horseshit…..plenty of other good beer companies with better cosumer strategies

  5. KBB says:

    Here’s a suggestion for a new name:

    Bell Bottom Heartless Ale

  6. Jason B says:

    So, if the new Bell’s math tells us that 3 is equal to 2, then maybe 5 is in fact equal to 3 and King Arthur need not have been corrected. Also, it is entirely possible that the bird is equal to or greater than the word.

  7. Jeffrey M says:

    Much ado about nothing. This is how intellectual property gets defended in the U.S. and most of the developed world – and anyone who knows a lawyer would be able to confirm this. Larry Bell’s letter/posted response is exactly correct; as the head of that company, he had a duty to defend the trademark. That is because failure to defend it would result in its real loss of legal protection. Blame the lawyers if you must, but it seems weird to me to blame Larry Bell. The only math involved here is real world math: profits & loss (and when you’re talking about Two Hearted, their best selling beer, those are undoubtedly significant sums).

    I will also say that I’m 100% sure that the reason Bell’s didn’t object in the past to the kit is due to lack of awareness about it. Same goes for that Oakshire Brewing release. Once they become aware of an infringing use, they need to defend against it or they lose exclusivity rights on their trademark (as I’ve already said). Sorry to be a reality-bringer to this news item, but it just seems absurd to me to stop drinking good beer from an important brewery for an action that was not just understandable but legally necessary.

  8. tj says:

    I’ll notify the lawyer in charge of Hemmingway’s estate and see if they want to go after Bell’s.

    Jeffery, important brewery, understandable and legally necessary are a matter of opinion.

    If it’s true Bell’s was ignorant of the kit, it should be clear it didn’t hurt their business. In my opinion, I’d be flattered to have a clone kit of a beer of mine, and I imagine it would also be good for business.

  9. dave toews says:

    Two Livers Ale!

  10. Andy s says:

    Either way IMO Bells was wrong and they need to be made aware that the craft beer community is watching how they handle themselves….dont want to be Sam Adams

  11. Jeffrey Maas says:

    TJ – like I said above, talk to someone who KNOWS intellectual property law. Non-lawyer standards about where the harm lies simply do not apply. It is all well and fine that you think Bell’s is on the wrong, but legally, they did the necessary. I’ll keep drinking their beers and displaying their logo because I see nothing here to get upset about. If your mileage varies, that’s your beer loss, not mine. Me, I’m happy to raise an Oberon this week to celebrate spring’s reluctant arrival.

  12. Jeffrey Maas says:

    And unless Hemingway’s estate has a brewing trademark, that example is “inapposite”, as a lawyer might say. I’ll just say it misses the mark for relevance to beer.

  13. beachscrat says:

    I don’t understand why they didn’t just pick up the phone and talk with Northern Brewer about it. Hell, they even could have gotten in on the pro-series stuff like what Town Hall and Surly are doing. At best they avoided a great opportunity here, and at worst they out-right alienated a very dedicated group of customers.

    Bad move Bell’s. Go the way of Goose Island and join AB.

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