Beer Man

Diebolt Brewing Backs Away From a Billion-Dollar Trademark Battle

Diebolt Brewing is a tiny beer marker in Denver's Sunnyside neighborhood. But the company recently faced a billion-dollar conundrum: fight a trademark battle over the name of one of its best beers, The Commodore, or acquiesce to the requests of another brewery that makes a beer with the same name.

The answer, of course, was to give in, as the opponent would have been Ballast Point, the San Diego-based craft brewery that was bought out late last year for a stunning $1 billion by Constellation Brands, the publicly traded booze behemoth that owns Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois and Ravenswood, among many others.

“With that kind of financial backing, it would have been a losing battle – even if we won,” says Diebolt co-founder Jack Diebolt, pointing to the costs of legal representation.

But Diebolt is at peace with the decision, and he says that negotiations with Ballast Point were “cordial and casual and ended amicably,” with the Denver brewery getting a chance to sell off the rest of its stock of The Commodore – a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout – at a relaxed pace.

“Brands are a strong point for any business. If you spend time building them, they are always a tough thing to abandon,” Diebolt says. “But Ballast Point was really cool about it. They didn’t threaten us or anything like that. It happens. It’s not the end of the world.”

Diebolt has been brewing its Commodore once a year and then aging it in whiskey barrels; it was bottled and then released in November as a 10 percent ABV winter seasonal. (In January, it landed on my list of the ten best packaged Colorado beers from 2015.) Ballast Point, which is renowned for its Sculpin IPA and Grapefruit Sculpin, also has a beer, a 6.5 percent ABV American stout, called The Commodore. It began selling its Commodore in Colorado about a year ago, Diebolt says.

There are still bottles of Diebolt's Commodore for sale at the brewery and at a few liquor stores around town, including Argonaut and Grapevine Wine & Liquors, both in Denver, and Mile High Wine & Spirits in Lakewood.

Diebolt says that Ballast Point got the trademark to the name – in October 2014 — around the same time that he began making his beer; given that, he says the case was probably pretty cut and dried.

He named the beer for his father, Dan, who opened the brewery with him. A friend coined the nickname after Dan left his previous profession and started working on the brewery.

Jack says he hasn’t settled on a new name yet for the beer. “It’s significantly harder to find names these days than it is to brew beer,” he says. “I guess we’ll have to come up with a new nickname for my dad, as well.”
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes