There are only four area codes in Colorado: 303, 719, 970 and 720. But the people who grew up with each prefix have a lot of pride in their three particular digits. The oldest of these by far — and the one with arguably the most cachet — is 303. Originally put into place in 1947 for the entire state, 303 now covers just the high-density Denver and Boulder metro areas, along with most of the surrounding suburbs.
But the difference between having a 303 number versus 720, which was overlaid on top of 303 in 1998, speaks volumes to some old-school types. That’s why there are restaurants, auto shops, stores, publications and products that use the prefix in their names. There’s even a 303 Day — March 3, of course — when people fly the blue, red and yellow flag, get themselves inked with 303 tattoos, and breathe in that Denver love.
Station 26 Brewing will rep 303 Day this weekend with a bar crawl and some other events touting its newish 303 Lager, but the six-year-old brewery has an extra reason to celebrate. On February 19, it secured the trademark "statement of use" rights to 303 for beer and brewery-related products.
It’s a nice win for the brewery, but also for fans of all things local, because back in May 2011, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the massive Belgium-based brewery conglomerate that makes Budweiser, attempted to trademark 303 and fourteen other major area codes around the country: 615 (Nashville), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 305 (Miami), 619 (San Diego), 202 (Washington, D.C.), 602 (Phoenix), 704 (Charlotte), 702 (Las Vegas), 214 (Dallas), 415 (San Francisco), 216 (Cleveland), 713 (Houston) and 215 (Philadelphia).
AB InBev had just purchased, for $38.8 million, Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing, whose flagship beer was 312 Urban Wheat, named for Chicago’s area code. (AB now owns a dozen craft breweries, including Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery.) And although the company never spoke publicly about it, the trademark filings made it seem as if AB InBev was planning to nationalize that concept. (AB now brews some 312 at its Fort Collins plant.)
The news caused a stir among craft-beer fans nationwide who were disappointed that Goose Island had sold out, but were even more terrified that a company with pockets as deep as AB InBev’s might now be ready to scoop up their local breweries and even co-opt their area codes. In the end, however, the company never used the trademarks, and by 2014, the applications had expired, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Four years later, Station 26 owner Justin Baccary got the idea to make a beer honoring 303, but he remembered the AB InBev stories from 2011 and knew he’d have to investigate.
“I wasn't sure what the status of ABI's 303 trademark was, other than the fact that I'd never seen an ABI beer called 303,” he explains. “So my attorney and I did some digging and realized that there was a path for us to secure the trademark and launch our own version.”
Here's what happened, according to a recent book about Goose Island and Anheuser-Busch: AB InBev intellectual property lawyers sought the trademarks to keep anyone else from copying the idea. Although the company did try to build on the 312 brand with 312 Urban Pale Ale — an effort that eventually failed — it stopped there. "None of the additional area-code beers ever emerged," writes Josh Noel in his recent book, Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out.
That was good news for Baccary, who decided to push forward since AB InBev had abandoned the trademark in 2014.
Although his brewery is known more for its big hoppy brews, like Juicy Banger IPA and Bang Bang Double IPA, Station 26 also makes some good lighter beers, including a cream ale. “Internally, we were big fans of Colorado Cream Ale, but as we continued to grow as a brewery, we realized that there was a problem with that beer: People don't know what cream ale is,” Baccary says. “That's not a problem if we're serving a customer in our taproom, because we have the ability to explain it to them face to face, but that's not possible with a six-pack in a liquor store in Boulder,” or in other locations around the metro area.
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“Most brewers love lager, and the Station 26 crew is no exception," he adds. "To us, a golden lager serves a very similar purpose to what we were going for with Colorado Cream Ale — a moderate ABV beer with some malt character and little bitterness. A beer-flavored beer that you can drink several of without thinking too much about it.”
And so Baccary applied for the trademark in May 2018, keeping very quiet about it so as not to rile AB InBev or anyone else — and then launched 303 Lager in cans last September. Now, however, with the trademark all but secured, he decided to blow things out with 303 WKND, a series of 303 Day parties.
The highlight is a downtown pub crawl from 2 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 2, that begins at Freshcraft and continues to four other destinations, each offering deals on 303 Lager. Get a beer, a punch card and a stamp at each place — Freshcraft, Falling Rock Tap House, Cherry Cricket downtown, Larimer Beer Hall and Star Bar — and collect a swag bag at Star Bar at 6:30 p.m.
Long live the 303!