Beer Man

Kettle & Stone changes name to Vindication Brewing at the request of Stone Brewing

"When you stand on the other side of the obstacle and you can hold your head high."

That's what the word "vindication" means to Marty Lettow, and that's why he and the other owners of Kettle & Stone Brewing chose it as the new name for their brewery. "All three of us have come through turmoil and trouble to do this thing," he says. "Blood, sweat and tears. So when that word is utilized, it makes us proud."

Kettle & Stone, which opened in the Gunbarrel section of Boulder in late June 2013, decided to change its name several months after San Diego County's Stone Brewing -- the tenth-largest craft brewery in the country -- offered them a deal with the devil: Keep the name but don't expand, or change it and do whatever you want.

See also: Strange Brewing changes name to Strange Craft to settle suit, celebrates four years in business

Neither option looked good, but the bigger brewery has the trademark on the word "Stone" when it comes to beer production -- and more money for attorneys.

"Had things gone toward litigation, it would have taken time and money," says Lettow, adding that the name change itself cost $5,000 to $10,000. "We had options, people offering pro bono legal work. But we wanted to just be done with it."

So "done with it," in fact, that Lettow didn't even want to discuss any more details about the day the Stone offered its ultimatum -- or what came after that.

But here's how Stone described it in a statement: "In November 2013, Stone Brewing Co. CEO and Co-founder Greg Koch called The Kettle & Stone Brewing Co. founders to request they change their brewery's name as it includes Stone's entire trademarked proper name (Stone Brewing Co.). No lawyers were on the call. Greg was calling in an effort to avoid any legal actions and hoping that in the collaborative spirit of craft beer, the issue could be resolved amicably.

"Both parties were able to agree that The Kettle & Stone Brewing Co. would operate with the name until March 2014, at which point the brewery would change the name," the statement continues. "So what's in a name? To both breweries, it's everything. A company's name is not only its identity, it also includes the integrity of its products -- in this case beer. Intellectual property is something that may be protected and soon after Stone Brewing Co. was established in 1996, we set out to protect our identity (and integrity) by trademarking Stone Brewing Co. To this end, when an infringement on our intellectual property is identified, our first course of action is to approach those involved without lawyers to discuss and see what can be worked out. Trademark conflicts among craft brewers happen. It's up to the two brewing companies to determine that it does not have to be a point of conflict, but instead a point of cooperation."

The approach was certainly better than a letter from a lawyer, but it was still difficult for Lettow. "It's been a real pain in the ass," he says. "But now we are moving forward."

And moving forward is what Kettle & Stone will do at 4:40 p.m. today at a renaming party, where it will formally announce the new moniker. The company had its name approved by the federal government last week, and by the state a few days later.

The announcement will also kick off a renewed effort to bottle its beers and get them out to liquor stores. Look for the beers in Denver around late June or early July.

And not just any beers, either. Lettow and co-owners Eric Huber (formerly of Oskar Blues and Mountain Sun) and Sanjiv Patel (formerly of Rock Bottom) don't use anti-foaming agents or enzymes when they brew. In fact, they eschew all chemicals.

"People want to know what is in their beers. That is our whole approach. We don't Lance Armstrong our beers," Lettow says. "We aren't organic, but we are all-natural. Other breweries have their schtick. This is ours. The proof is in the pint."

The centerpiece of the new bottling and sales effort will be Momentum IPA, a brand-new, 5.7 percent session IPA that will be packaged in 22-ounce bomber bottles. The brewery is also bottling American Bold, a red ale. Lettow says he had to stop selling in early April so that liquor stores didn't have the old logo, and now has "beer coming out of my ears.

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