Beer Man

How Great Divide and Sam Adams Decided Not to Fight Over the Whitewater Beer Name

Great Divide Brewing will bring back a new version of a very old beer this summer when it begins bottling and canning Whitewater Wheat, a hoppy wheat ale that will replace Heydey in its lineup. But the rollout will also speak as a quiet testament to how craft breweries can work out potential trademark disputes by talking things out.

It's an issue that continues to pester the industry and one that flared up recently when California's Lagunitas Brewing threatened to sue fellow hoppy standard-bearer Sierra Nevada over the font it used for the words IPA on a label.

See also: Photos: Great Divide Brewing Breaks Ground on Its River North Campus

The Whitewater story goes like this: When Great Divide was founded in 1994, owner Brian Dunn started with two beers, Arapahoe Street Amber and Whitewater Wheat. (The recipe for the new version has been significantly changed and updated.) Over the years, the brewery added and subtracted dozens of new beers, becoming known for some of the bigger, bolder ones like Yeti Imperial Stout and Hercules Double IPA.

Arapahoe Amber, meanwhile, evolved to become Ridgeline Amber before eventually disappearing. As for Whitewater Wheat, although Great Divide stopped bottling it about a decade ago, it continued to brew the beer periodically for the taproom.

In 2010, Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams, decided to call one of its new beers Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA. After researching the name, the company discovered Great Divide's 1995 trademark, but noticed that the beer was now out of production and had been "retired" on the BeerAdvocate web site, says Boston Beer Company spokeswoman Jessica Paar in an e-mail.

"So we thought the trademark had been 'abandoned,'" she explains.

It wasn't. About a year later, Dunn heard about the beer. But by then Boston Beer was distributing it nationwide. Instead of suing, Dunn thought about the problem.

"They had a lot of time and money into that beer, so I felt like we should work something out with them," he says. So Dunn called Boston Beer owner Jim Koch. After a lot of work and a lot of talking, the two came to what both sides called "a gentleman's agreement."

"After some discussion, Great Divide consented to allowing us to continue to use the name 'Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA,' and we agreed that we would not seek to register the mark. We have both co-existed happily under this gentleman's agreement for several years and we wish him success with his new beer (it sounds delicious)," Paar says. "We'd always rather work together with a fellow craft brewer to come to an amicable solution and we were both able to do so here in a spirit of good will."

Although Boston Beer isn't currently brewing Whitewater IPA, it can still be found on the shelf, Paar says.

"They have been good to work with. We were glad we were able to come to an agreement," Dunn adds. "Both parties worked hard to do it."

Dunn says he believes that many disputes could be avoided in the first place if brewery owners called one another to ask about names once they discover something similar on BeerAdvocate or elsewhere on the Internet.

You can find a pilot version of Whitewater Wheat, called Winter Wheat, in Great Divide's taproom right now, says brewery spokeswoman Shannon Berner, although it is not as sweet as the version that is being bottled and canned.

That one, due out in July, is described by the brewery as having "a bold hop profile" with "hints of citrus, light floral notes, and a satisfying bitterness." It will be 6.1 percent ABV.

Great Divide is currently building a $38.2 million, five-acre brewing campus on the banks of the South Platte River in Denver's River North neighborhood. The first part of the project, a a 65,000-square-foot warehouse, storage and packaging facility, along with a small taproom called the Barrel Bar, is expected to be finished late this spring.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes