It’s the classic David versus Goliath scenario and the latest battle between Big Beer and Craft Beer. This fight had been brewing for months and began when MillerCoors began shortening the name of its Keystone branded beers to “Stone” or “Stone’s”. And those actions didn’t go unnoticed in Southern California. Finally, Stone Brewing has filed suit against MillerCoors, and its parent company, Molson Coors, on February 12th. The suit alleges that MillerCoors has been co-opting its name and reputation in the marketplace.
Hammer: dropped. Big Beer is once again playing dirty in their battle against independent beer. We didn’t start this fight, but no way in hell are we going to back down from it. https://t.co/IWvk6tPgdm
— Greg Koch (@StoneGreg) February 12, 2018
MillerCoors is part of Molson Coors, the world’s seventh largest brewery, and produces the beers Keystone and Keystone Light that were originally introduced by Coors Brewing Company in 1989. But in recent years, the sales growth of Big Beer brands has been flat and the Keystone branded beers have also been flagging. However, during that same period, the craft beer industry has shown considerable growth.
Stone Brewing is the ninth largest craft brewery in the United States, per the Brewers Association. And as the craft beer industry has been growing, so has Stone. In the past two years, the brewery has opened a location in Berlin, Germany, and a production facility in Richmond, Virginia. In 2017, Stone produced 12 million gallons of beer and grossed $242 million.
Perhaps seeking to reenergize its Keystone brand by latching on to a successful craft brand, MillerCoors began to drop the “Key” from “Keystone” in its marketing and packaging. This shift began quietly in April 2017 but has become bolder recently.
MillerCoors even attempted to trademark the name “Stones” back in 2007 but was rejected. Stone Brewing already owns a trademark for the name “Stone” as it applies to beer and has possessed that mark since June 1998. At the time, MillerCoors “abandoned its application, admitting that confusion with Stone beer was likely,” the suit reads.
“Keystone’s new can design overtly copies and infringes the Stone trademark” reads the complaint. The new packaging design on the cans and 30-pack cases emphasizes the word “Stone”. That lettering design covers the side of the can and case.
The complaint goes on to read “Such mass advertising broadcasts the infringing ‘Stone’ name beyond Keystone’s immediate social media audience to the general public at large.” MillerCoors has recently used only “Stone” to reference Keystone in its social media campaigns and in ads on websites such as ESPN.com.
Read the Entire Complaint
If you’re so inclined, read the 25-page complaint in its entirety below. This comes courtesy of Scribd and one of its users, Mike Snider, a writer for USA Today.
Not Without a Sense of Humor
The complaint takes the opportunity to throw some shade at MillerCoors.
The second paragraph the complaint reads “Like all all Gargoyles, it is slow to anger, and seeks a respectful, live-and-let-live relationship with peers and colleagues — even those purveying beers akin to watered-down mineral spirits.”
In paragraph five, Stone speaks of returning Keystone to the Rockies: “The Gargoyle does not countenance such misdirection of consumers; nor does it support those who would disavow their own Colorado mountain heritage to misappropriate another’s ancestry. Stone accordingly brings this action to help usher Keystone back to the Rockies.”
The complaint even mentions a USA Today article from last December that names Keystone as a beer that Americans no longer drink.
A Message from Greg Koch
Just after the complaint was filed, one of the founders of Stone Brewing, Greg Kock, posted a video on YouTube discussing the cause for suit while also poking fun at Keystone and MillerCoors.
One amusing, over-the-top visual shows Greg Koch apparently spitting out a mouthful of Keystone Light. At one point he also holds up a can of Keystone Light and remarks that “Stone” and “Light” are “two words you would never use in association with our company.”
MillerCoors denies the allegations put forth by Stone Brewing and labeled the suit as just a “publicity stunt.” Their spokesman, Marty Maloney, went on to say “Since Keystone’s debut in 1989, prior to the founding of Stone Brewing in 1996, our consumers have commonly used ‘Stone’ to refer to the Keystone brand and we will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process.”