We have been brewing Hells Lager since September 2010. It’s our most established and well-loved beer and brand (voted the UK’s favorite lager in the Beer O’clock Show’s recent poll) and accounts for over 60% of our output, paying the salaries for our 37 employees.
Hells Lager is everything to us. It’s the reason we started a brewery and – we believe – a unique product with a unique name. When we set out to brew a lager we knew we wanted to create a hybrid of our two favourite styles Helles and Pilsner, for which we created the portmanteau name ‘Hells’, a blend of both.
We think what’s happening in the craft beer scene is really exciting. Great beers are being brewed by really interesting brewers. People who are passionate about their beers and what they stand for. Creating innovative brands, bringing huge diversity and choice to a market that was stagnating. Not only brewing distinctive beers, but also building distinctive brands that stand for themselves.
The UK beer scene has grown a huge amount since we started making Hells and we are very proud and inspired to be amongst so many excellent small breweries making lagers. We are however, the only Hells Lager. Until now.
It has recently come to our attention that another UK brewery has started using the name “Hells Craft Lager”, in a graphic style similar to ours for one of their beers. Like our Hells Lager, it is 4.6% ABV.
When we first noticed that this was happening, we didn’t want to jump to conclusions. As a young brewery ourselves, we have learned from our mistakes in that it is much more effective to openly discuss issues with other brewers, rather than take an adversarial approach. As such, our Brewing Director contacted the other brewery over the telephone to explain why we were concerned over their choice of brand name and subsequently suggested to them to stop using the name ‘Hells’. They dismissed our suggestion and have ignored our offer to meet face to face to discuss a mutually satisfying resolution. Since then, they have stepped up promotion of the product they are calling “Hells Craft Lager”.
So, do we have our brand name Hells trademarked? The answer to this is that our European trademark application is still in progress. When we first started out we didn’t have the cash to trademark our brands, so we chose to grow our brands before proclaiming that we own them. Last December, after years of hard work building our beer brands, we applied for European trademarks for all our core range beers, including Hells Lager. Whilst we’ve encountered various issues with the applications we’re taking steps to resolve them.
What causes us real concern is another brewery selling a beer called Hells right in our own back yard, when they are fully aware of the reputation we have built under this name. Due to our EU trademark application still being in progress, the action of this other brewery promoting their “Hells Craft Lager” prompted us to lodge for trademark protection in the UK on the 21st August 2014.
This week we found out that this other brewery filed two applications to trademark the name Hells on 27th August, which we have been trading under, for four years. We believe that this is a deliberate attempt to trade on the success and reputation of our beer – a reputation we have worked hard to build over the last 4 years.
We would never brew a beer using another brewery’s name. This amounts to passing off which is a serious issue in law and is there to protect people like us.
As of today we have sent a cease and desist letter to this other brewery. We take no pleasure in doing this and it’s a matter that we hoped could be resolved without going to this length. However, we believe we should stand up for and defend our beer, our brewery, our brand, and everything we have built.
For the craft beer scene to continue to grow, we need to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect, protecting intellectual property, celebrating difference and rewarding originality, so every brewery is free to thrive without fear of unfair imitation. Long may there be breweries with all kinds of names and beers and brands and long may they prosper being themselves.