Beer Man

Left Hand Brewing bottles two more nitro beers, settles lawsuit over the word "Nitro"

Left Hand Brewing altered the beer-drinking landscape two years ago when it announced during the Great American Beer Festival that it had come up with a way to inject nitrogen into its bottled Milk Stout so that it pours smooth and creamy, like a draft beer.

Milk Stout Nitro quickly became the Longmont company's best-selling beer brand, and today, the brewery announced that it will begin selling two more nitrogenated beers: Sawtooth, a version of its flagship ESB, and Wake Up Dead, a Russian Imperial Stout.

See also: Left Hand brews throwback beers to celebrate its twentieth anniversary

Left Hand also revealed that it has settled a trademark dispute with a Canadian brewer who had trademarked the word "Nitro," as it relates to beer, in 2004.

The Nitro beers are designed to be poured hard -- which releases the nitrogen -- meaning that drinkers should turn the bottle upside down when they pour it into a glass. Rather than overflowing, however, the beer comes out smoothly and slowly, with a thick, billowy head and bubbles that cascade up from the bottom.

Guinness also makes a nitrogenated beer, but it uses a device known as a "widget" to create that effect in the bottle. Left Hand, which spent three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on its technology, is the first U.S. craft brewer to make a bottled beer on nitro -- and so far, it is still the only brewery to do it.

"I'm surprised no one out there has done it since we did, but it's coming," says Left Hand spokesman Chris Lennart. "People have been asking; it's just a matter of time."

Although Left Hand didn't patent its process, it did try to trademark the word "Milk Stout Nitro" at the same time that it released the beer in 2011. But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the application, saying the term "Nitro" had been protected more than a decade earlier by a man named Eli Gershkovitch, who owns Vancouver, Canada's Steamworks Brewery (no relation to Steamworks Brewing in Durango).

After doing some research, Left Hand decided to challenge Gershkovitch's claim to the word, saying that he had never used the mark.

The two companies have since settled the dispute. "We worked out an agreeable situation that worked for both of us," Lennart says.

The two new Nitro beers will be available in Colorado shortly and for the remainder of the year. Distribution to additional Left Hand markets will begin in 2014. Sawtooth will be sold in six-packs, while Wake Up Dead will be sold in four-packs.

As with the first Nitro release, Left Hand did everything it could to keep the new beers secret -- although it took out teaser ads both times in Draft magazine. This year's add featured a picture of the original Nitro bottle with two shadows behind it and the words, "Bell. Saw. Skull," which correspond to the images on each beer's label.

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