Challenged by a Bend brewery over the use of its company name, Medford nano-brewery Apocalypse has opted out of a potentially long and expensive legal fight and renamed itself Opposition Brewing Co.
10 Barrel Brewing Co. of Bend started selling its Apocalypse IPA in July 2009, but didn't immediately trademark the name. Apocalypse Brewing registered its company name with the Oregon Secretary of State in August 2011, says owner Nick Ellis.
Through attorneys, 10 Barrel "expressed disagreement" with Ellis using the name in February 2012.
"They said they owned the rights to the name and attorneys started doing what attorneys do, going back and forth about it," Ellis says. "The word 'apocalypse' has significant market saturation among beer products ... we felt no one owned it before we used it."
Ellis registered his company name as a trademark in Oregon on March 7, 2012, only to find 10 Barrel had registered the Apocalypse beer as a trademark in this state eight days earlier.
A few months later, communication between the two breweries stopped — and nothing was heard for a year, Ellis says. In the middle of that period, in September 2012, Apocalypse opened the doors of its small tap room at 545 Rossanley Drive, a cozy spot that seats 15 and has all the brewing tanks out in plain view.
But 10 Barrel resumed its action in June 2013, and in September, Ellis and his partners threw in the towel, deciding to meet with its customers to find a new name.
They came up with Opposition Brewing because of the feisty scrap they conducted for almost two years. The name-change became official in December 2013. The new name adorns a new logo, a man wearing a gas mask.
Why a gas mask?
"It just seemed to go with the name," says Ellis. "We try to keep things edgy and fun."
Ellis and his business partner, Dennis Poncia, the brewmaster, are philosophical about the spat.
"I'm not going to get too attached to any name," Poncia says. "People are enjoying the beer a lot, so that's the first step."
Asked how much was spent on lawyers, Ellis says, "A lot, several thousands of dollars."
10 Barrel owner Jeremy Cox wouldn't comment on specifics of the dispute, but says, "Apocalypse is our flagship brand and you have to protect your brand."
Cox says 10 Barrel has been in many trademark disputes since it started in 2006. It had to change the name of its brewery from Wildfire to 10 Barrel when a restaurant in Delaware said it already had that name.
"We've had a bunch of trademark issues and 98 percent of them were settled without lawyers," Cox says.
Opposition is one of four nano breweries — those brewing batches of three or fewer barrels — in the valley, along with Portal and BricktownE in Medford and Swingtown in Ashland. Relations among them are cordial, not competitive, says Ellis, but as the industry grows, disputes have become more common.
"We were within our rights," says Ellis, "but we decided we wanted to move forward in a positive way. We have a fighting spirit, and we didn't just give up immediately. However, we did have our attorney vet the new name thoroughly."
Ellis was a home beer maker. When he got laid off from his corporate bookkeeping job in the 2008 crash, he decided to invest, with wife Erin, in his first love — making ales. They're doing well, having paid off a startup loan, and plan to expand in the next 18 months into making seven barrels per batch, which is micro-brewery level, he says.
His ales are available at the tap room only. A 32-ounce growler is $9, with $4 for the re-useable glass container. It's $7 if you're in his club. Ellis plans to teach a home beer-making class in February.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.