Blue Moon Sued For What Now?

Eno Sarris, May 05, 2015

By now you've read about this, probably. Blue Moon is getting sued for pretending to be a craft beer. On the surface, we craft beer drinkers are probably mostly like, yah, duh. But when you actually read the complaint and look for the transgressions by MillerCoors, it seems much less likely that this will shake down the way our surface-level analysis has decided it will. 

The best part of the complaint is the personal stuff. The complainant used to buy Blue Moon because he thought it was craft beer, and then a friend told him it wasn't, he read up, and now he doesn't buy Blue Moon any more. It's like an awakening into the land of BeerGraphs and RateBeer and all the nerdery that lies below, written in legalese. 

And of course there's no doubt that Blue Moon is not craft beer -- not by the cited definition from The Brewer's Association that focuses on size and ingredients. So let's not spend too much time debating *that* one. MillerCoors makes more than six million barrels, and controls more than 25% of Blue Moon, so it doesn't even matter if there's rice in that there Belgian White. The craft beer industry has decided Blue Moon is not a member.

But we've come to the real crux of the matter -- has Blue Moon represented itself as craft beer? 

The complaint says it has, in two ways.

One is simple.  The bottle says it's craft beer, maybe. "Defendant also uses the registered trademark "Artfully Crafted" to falsely portray Blue Moon as a craft beer," says the complaint. 

That's an obvious attempt by the brewer to use a loaded word, or at least it seems so. But has the craft beer industry laid claim to all mentions of 'craft?' That's a legal question, and I bet it's not as 'obvious' as the situation may seem to a craft beer lover. All MillerCoors has to say is that it's a description of their brewing methods and probably point out that the word 'crafted' can't be owned by an entire industry.

There is mention of using the word 'craft beer' to describe Blue Moon on the website. It's not in the descriptions of the beers, but there is one little header that sticks out -- 'craft' for Batch 19, Blue Moon, and some other beers -- and that may be a problem. Unless the company just argues that they are using the word generally and not specifically, to represent the fact that those beers taste like other beers within a general 'craft' style. 

The other main thrust of the complaint is a little more complicated. The basic question here is if the brand is transparent enough about ownership and the provenance of the Blue Moon beers. "Despite brewing Blue Moon for the past 20 years, Defendant goes to great lengths to disassociate Blue Moon beer from the MillerCoors name," is the best way to sum it up. 

MillerCoors doesn't show up on the bottle, the website, or in the commercials. And none of the beers in your local market are brewed at the actual Blue Moon Brewing Company, a small brewpub at Coors Field. 

But doesn't everyone do this? Your Mercedes dealer isn't required to tell you that you are buying a Chrysler. There's no mention of Pepsico on your Quaker oats. P&G makes your Pringles, your Pampers, and your Pepto, which is appropriate. Corporations will fight anyone trying to make them be upfront about ownership and the brand mothership, down to the last penny in their pocket. 

False advertising claims like this are tough. Was MillerCoors factually incorrect, did they violate a copyright, did they treat their competitors fairly? They didn't say "Blue Moon is craft beer as defined by the Brewer's Association," they own the copyrights in question, and they didn't say anything about their competitors in a literal sense. 

Obviously we know what the money will argue. And it's not even as solid a case, probably, once you boil it down to these two parameters.

Too bad, because craft beer drinkers all know what MillerCoors is doing.