There were some ruffled feathers in the usually collegial world of craft brewing this week as two local breweries — one fledgling and one more established — had a disagreement over names.
The dispute pitted the forthcoming Silver Spring-based brewery and tap room Citizens Brewing Co. against the 3-year-old Northeast D.C. brewer D.C. Brau, which produces The Citizen ale as one of its signature beers.
“We feel like there’s too much product confusion between ‘The Citizen,’ which is distributed in Montgomery County, and Citizens Brewing,” said D.C. Brau co-owner Brandon Skall. “You sit down at a bar and order a Citizen, who knows what you’re going to get.”
D.C. Brau reached out to the owners of Citizens Brewing Co. — Emily Bruno, Julie Verratti and Jeff Ramirez — only to be told they weren’t inclined to change the name because they have been branding it for the past year.
“Citizens is a name that we picked originally because Jeff had been toying with the idea of opening his own brewery, and Citizens was the name he wanted to use for years,” Bruno said. She also liked that the name suggested craft beer that was accessible for everyone.
But their position changed when D.C. Brau sent a cease-and-desist letter on Dec. 6. Citizens Brewing Co. subsequently received notification from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that there could be some confusion. The new name: Denizens Brewing Co.
“I really like our name, so at the end of the day, that’s the silver lining,” Bruno said.
Bruno and her partners aim to open the 7,500-square-foot brewery and tap room at 1115 East-West Highway early next summer. It also will also include a 3,500-square-feet outdoor beer garden.
She said the interaction with D.C. Brau did leave a bit of a sour taste in their mouths.
“In the D.C. area, D.C. Brau is a leader, and they didn’t set the greatest example for other breweries,” she said. She would have preferred being able to resolve it without going through legal channels.
Skall said that would have been his preference as well, noting that there was nothing “malicious” in D.C. Brau’s intent and reiterating that his team tried to resolve it without legal action to no avail.
“This stuff happens in our industry all the time, unfortunately,” he said. “When you spend tons of money in the production and marketing of a beer, and when that beer is worth roughly 20 percent of your net sales, it’s a name we need to protect. That’s why we had a trademark on it.”
Skall said the brewery’s goal is “first and foremost to increase the craft beer culture” in D.C., he added.
“We want them to succeed. We’re very sympathetic to them,” he said. “But this is something we have to do to protect our brand.”