On Maryland’s Changing Beer Laws

(Brendan speaking:) Let me start by saying that if any of you caught my brief interview on Fox 5 DC last night, you may have been confused by my response regarding Montgomery County having “the best beer laws in the country when it comes to self-distribution.” When I went back and watched the interview, I was confused, too. Not to make excuses, but I was a bit surprised to find myself suddenly on camera during a live news feed and in my frantic effort to mentally orient myself, I scrambled two separate thoughts into one statement. I meant to say that I believe Montgomery County is the best place in the country to be opening a brewery and that self-distribution laws under the Class 7 state license are what enticed us to come here in the first place.

I did not mean to say that Maryland (nor Montgomery County) has the best beer laws–though that may soon change…

_____________________

Yesterday, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot had his “Reform On Tap” task force unveil their recommended legislative changes for Maryland’s beer laws. This was a critical step in the path to bringing fairness to the craft beer market. To catch you up on how we got here, consider this laymen’s summary of recent significant events:

The Maryland State Assembly (the people who make Maryland’s laws) voted through House Bill 1283 which was full of bad rules that really hurt most of Maryland’s breweries. The passing of this terrible law turned into a national news story that severely damaged the nation’s perception of Maryland as a business-friendly state. This is no shock considering that a state’s treatment of its breweries has come to be viewed as a symbol of its business-friendliness in general. Therefore, this bill was quickly recognized as an embarrassment for the entire state and it threatened to hurt the growth rate of Maryland businesses irrespective of industry.

To get to the bottom of what the heck has been going on, the guy in charge of Maryland’s money (Comptroller Peter Franchot) put together a group (the “Reform On Tap Task Force”) to study the size of the impact of Maryland’s breweries on the state’s economy and also to understand how the state’s existing beer laws affect its breweries’ abilities to grow and, in turn, generate revenue for the state.

The Reform On Tap Task Force released its findings two weeks ago. To summarize, they found that Maryland’s craft beer laws are exceptionally restrictive for no discernible purpose. (In truth, it is well understood that these bizarre laws came from big money special interest groups and lobbyists who pushed through legislation to protect their own rears regardless of what’s good for the state and its people.)

After allowing two weeks to digest the findings, the Task Force announced yesterday a full suite of recommended legislative changes that they’re going to introduce to the State Assembly, including:

Reform On Tap 2018 Proposed Law Changes

While each of these issues is important for creating a fair and competition-driven market, two in particular stand head and shoulders above the rest: elimination of self-distribution limits and franchise laws for brewers brewing less than 300,000 BBL/year.

Self-distribution is the right for a brewery to sell and deliver its own beer to its own customers. Those customers include retail establishments like bars, restaurants, and bottle shops, and they also include end consumers like you. Currently, there are three brewery license classes and each has its own self-distribution volume limit. Once a brewery has reached its limit, it has to sell its beer to a distributor regardless of whether or not it wants to simply because the law requires it. This is not a market-based decision. It is a legal requirement.

This is bad because it forces breweries to relinquish control of their own product and brand. To help you understand how this works, let’s use an example where you are the owner of a business that makes peanut butter:

In this example, you walk into Safeway and discuss the sale of peanut butter with the store’s stock manager. They agree to buy 5 cases to sell at their store. Since you have the right to self-distribute, you simply call up your truck driver and have him slap 5 cases on the back of the truck to deliver it today. Meanwhile, you get to keep all of the profit made from the sale and you are sure that the peanut butter delivered is of the highest quality when it arrives.

Now imagine you do not have the right to self-distribute. Instead, you are required by law to use a distributor. You make the sale and you call the distributor to schedule the delivery. The distributor lets you know that although the customer needs it today, it will be delivered on a regularly scheduled day sometime in the future because they have so many other deliveries to make and so many other manufacturers to keep happy… unless, of course, you’re wiling to pay an expediting fee to get your own product on the shelf today when the customer needs it.

Eventually, the peanut butter is delivered and the sale is completed. And even though the distributor takes a cut of the sale price, you couldn’t charge the customer more for peanut butter than the competition because the acceptable price of a case of peanut butter is set by the market. So you just take the loss on the distributor’s cut.

Finally, you receive an angry phone call from the customer: the peanut butter was spoiled. The distributor was not following best practices when it came to storage and transport of your product. Now the customer is upset and no longer trusts your brand. In fact, they want their money back and make it clear that they won’t be buying your peanut butter again. You’re angry yourself because this is relatively commonplace and you’ve mentioned your dissatisfaction to your distributor several times with no significant improvement.

Perhaps at this point you’d be looking to terminate your relationship with your distributor. Ah, but you can’t… you see, franchise laws dictate the terms by which a manufacturer/distributor relationship can be terminated and by law, you are required to give the distributor 6 months to rectify their mistake upon notice of intent to terminate even though this has been a constant and repeating issue. And if, after those 6 months, you can legally prove in court that the distributor was delinquent on delivering service of an acceptable quality, you still have to pay dramatic fees to finally break the agreement.

Not to mention that during the 6-month dispute, the bad will generated caused the distributor to decide to stop stocking your product in large volumes so your customers are experiencing even longer delivery times. In fact, your customers may not even want to deal with the hassle of waiting for your peanut butter and risking quality issues when there are a million other brands on the market whose peanut butter shows up on time and with sufficient quality.

And there’s not a damn thing you, the peanut butter manufacturer, can do about the delivery timeline nor the state your peanut butter arrives in because the law requires that you use this distributor and the law requires that you stay with them for at least 6 months even if they continue damaging your brand.

These examples may sound extreme but they happen to real breweries. This is a huge reason why small breweries fail. Take a moment to sincerely ask yourself how many small businesses you know that could survive a bad relationship with a sub-par distributor they’re legally required to use during a minimum of a 6-month quarrel, culminating in a huge contract termination check being written to the distributor for terminating a relationship that was bad in the first place.

It’s obscene.

That’s why these changes are nothing short of essential for allowing Maryland’s craft breweries to compete in a fair and balanced environment. Currently, the cards are stacked in such dramatic fashion against local breweries that in 2016, Maryland’s economic impact per capita generated by breweries was 47th in the nation ahead of only:

  1. Mississippi
  2. Alabama
  3. South Carolina
  4. Oklahoma

These are not states that we should be comparing ourselves to because together, they represent some of the most restrictive and craft beer-negative legislative environments in the nation. (This is to say nothing of the wonderful craft beer fans who inhabit those states! I mourn for their parched throats needlessly being deprived of the vast array of local options they should have access to.)

Still, as common sense as these changes are, the fight is going to be gnarly. The special interest groups who helped form these backwards laws are well-funded and very experienced in the state’s legislative process. We need this conversation to be had and had often. We need the truth of how unfairly things operate to spread like wildfire so that you, the Maryland beer drinking public, can see an explosion in the growth of local craft beer and reap the benefits; both economic and cultural.

Lastly, please call your state representative and tell them you support the Reform On Tap 2018 initiative and let them know you feel particularly strongly about the elimination of self-distribution limits and franchise laws for small, local brewers.

Cheers,

The True Respite Team

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: Meet Our Brewer

He’s a wonderful teammate, a highly accomplished brewer, and a humble family man.

The wait is over. Today, we can finally introduce you to the man whose experience and technical brewing excellence will be a differentiator for True Respite. We’re very proud to announce that Kenny Allen will be joining the team full time as Head Brewer and Director of Brewing Operations.

Meet Kenny Allen

Kenny’s 17+ years of professional brewing experience started in Ashburn, VA, at Old Dominion Brewing Company. His first day was a last-minute bottling gig he landed after walking in and asking for a job on a whim. It didn’t take long for him to realize that he’d stumbled into a special place full of uniquely talented people. He put his nose to the grind and did whatever odd jobs needed to be done while continuing to put in regular work on the bottling line.

Through the high caliber tutelage of the cast and crew around him, he learned the ropes of running a brewing line. He soaked in as much as his peers and mentors could offer, eventually earning his way to becoming a shift brewer. He continued to learn feverishly and climbed the ranks through lab manager and packaging manager until finally earning Old Dominio’s esteemed title of Brewmaster.

OD brewed no less than six GABF medal-winning beers under his direction as Brewmaster. Some were original OD recipes (like the GABF Gold Medal the OD team earned for their IPA) and others were beers contract brewed for other brands. Regardless, the brewery thrived, putting out quality beer after quality beer.

After 13 proud years at Old Dominion, Kenny ventured out to pursue professional knowledge in a larger and more structured manufacturing environment. He spent six years as a production coach and quality manager for Nestle, learning and perfecting lean manufacturing practices. By the time he left, he was armed with all the tools necessary to dominate quality control and to maximize production while minimizing waste.

Six years was long enough to reinvigorate Kenny’s thirst for brewing great beer and a golden opportunity soon presented itself: Kenny was offered the role of Brewmaster at Ashburn, VA, startup Old Ox Brewing Company. Kenny joined up early enough to help oversee construction. He was there for the critical early life of the brewery and helped make it the esteemed beer lover’s destination it is today.

Mid-2016 saw another opportunity to help grow a fledgling brewery arise. Mustang Sally Brewing Company had just opened in Chantilly, VA, and Kenny got word that they were looking for a seasoned pro to take the reins on their young brewing operation. Kenny, now experienced at growing a successful craft brewery from the ground up, jumped at the opportunity to leave his mark on another great Virginia craft brand. A short year and change later, MS is growing at breakneck pace and earning a reputation for consistently brewing high quality, approachable beers. (If you haven’t tried their Amber Lager yet, we suggest you do!)

Still, one thing has been missing at each of Kenny’s stops: true ownership. It’s one thing to love brewing and to love the excitement of growing a young business into a flourishing industry leader. It’s something entirely different for that business to be yours.

Early on, we [Brendan & Bailey] decided that we were never going to hire True Respite’s first brewer. It just didn’t feel right. We wanted a partner in this process. We wanted our brewer to have the same level of energy and devotion that we were bringing ourselves. In regards to managing the business, we wanted an equal who would challenge us to find newer and better ways of accomplishing our goals–especially if those challenges came from a voice of experience.

We’re so lucky to have Kenny joining our team as he has all that we’ve been looking for and more. He’s a wonderful teammate, a highly accomplished brewer, and a humble family man. He’ll be the perfect torch bearer for this movement we’ve been building. We can’t say enough how proud we are to have gotten where we are and to have built the team we have. This is truly the start of something great!

Cheers,

Brendan, Bailey, and Kenny

[P.S. We start construction in two weeks!]

Squeezing Blood From A Stone

We have a new challenge on our hands

Things have turned from uncertain to absolutely crazy around these parts. We’ve finished our first brewery design, selected a general contractor, and had the county issue a first round of comments on our construction permit applications. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that the project costs for the brewery we’d like to build grossly outpace the budget we have available. This blog post is all about looking forward to what happens from here.

We have a new challenge on our hands: We have to squeeze blood from a stone. We’re in the process of finding cost savings in places they don’t appear to exist. Being engineers has been a major blessing through this phase of the process and has already paid massive dividends. We’ve managed to knock about 1/3rd of the overall project costs straight off the top by redesigning some mechanical and electrical systems. For example, we’ve moved from a three-unit HVAC system to a single unit with multiple zone control. We’ve also worked with the pilot brewhouse manufacturer to redesign its control panel and heating elements so we can eliminate major costs upgrading the building’s existing transformers and panels.

We’ve also had to step down on some long term maintainability items that we’d hoped we’d include from the start. For example, we’d have loved acid brick / dairy tile in the brewhouse and cellar sump areas. We’ve had to scale back to an epoxy floor coating with the intention to upgrade to chemical and heat resistant tile in the future.

Still–even with these money saving changes, we’re a hefty chunk of the project away from being able to release the GC to get the work completed. At this point, we’re looking at an October start to construction with the tap room opening in January. We’d love to get open sooner but we first have some major issues to solve.

On the positive side, we’ve received some incredible support from you, our community. While our own intrinsic motivation is strong, your enthusiasm for this project continues push us forward with even greater fervor. We can’t overstate how appreciative we have been for your excitement and the regular encouragement we get both from people we’ve known and people we’d never met. Ultimately, this project is about the community we’re bringing it to and you are all already showing us the love we hope to return.

Thank you for your patience and we’ll see you all in the tap room soon!

A Sneak Peek of the Brewery

In case you missed it: We signed our lease! Here’s a peek into our property at:

7301 Calhoun Place, Suite 600, Derwood, MD 20855

7301 Calhoun Pl - Interior - Towards Arrowhead
TRBC Brewery and Tap Room Interior – Before
7301 Calhoun Pl - Exterior - Front Facade
TRBC Brewery and Tap Room Exterior – Before

Finding a property to call our own was one of our largest and toughest tasks. Our list of requirements for the space was not short:

  • Located in Montgomery County, MD
  • 7,000 – 10,000 sqft
  • 16’+ clear ceiling heights
  • Properly zoned for manufacturing and retail uses
  • Affordable
  • Sufficient parking
  • Landlord is ok with a brewery

Still, this didn’t originally seem like it would be too tough of a task. Unfortunately, the word “brewery” almost seemed to be a curse word among landlords. We quickly learned that the complete lack of breweries in the county meant that the familiarity with the concept of what a brewery even is was low and therefore the level of discomfort with  breweries among landlords was extremely high. (We also found ourselves running into the same landlords over and over again across properties. That made things really complicated.)

Parking was repeatedly an issue as well. Often, if the issue wasn’t the brewery use itself, landlords felt that demand would be too great so we would likely overwhelm their available parking. It was almost as if our business was deemed either too weird or too destined for success–never in between. It started to feel like we couldn’t win.

Early on, we were even negotiating with one landlord that required a kitchen. For a while, we considered partnering with a chef. In the end, we just couldn’t get comfortable with opening a restaurant and the landlord of this space in particular would accept no other option. (In fact, Q by Peter Chang just had its soft opening in the space this past week. We’re very happy the landlord got the restaurant they wanted!)

Despite some highs and lows along the way, true success eventually struck for us at long last. Our real estate agent got wind of a space that met our requirements but which wasn’t in a traditional warehouse district. In fact, it had apparently almost become a Ninja Warrior gym before the deal fell through. We jumped at this opportunity and toured the building at Calhoun Place as quickly as we could. Negotiations started shortly thereafter.

We’ve fallen in love with the beautiful surround of windows and the interesting shape of the space. Bailey, in particular, absolutely adores the plethora of natural light and has advocated strongly for this space straight from the first day we saw it.

Now, it’s time for us to transform this neat looking space into a fully functional brewery and tap room. Our sleeves are rolled up and we’re ready to dive in head first!

 

Cheers,

The True Respite Team

The Origin Story

True Respite Brewing Company is the culmination of an ever-growing love for the craft beer moment

Our story started when Co-Founder Brendan O’Leary set his phone’s alarm for 5 minutes before midnight: January 18th, 2008. That 5-minute window gave him just enough time to wake up, wander through his empty house down to the fridge, grab a cold brew of choice, and head back to his dimly lit room. Then, right at the crack of twelve, he took a hearty gulp and welcomed himself to the ripe age of 21.

Although the rest of the house was dark and still, that moment still burns brightly in his mind. His discovery of craft beer while off starting an internship 516 miles from his friends back at Georgia Tech quickly turned into a home brewing hobby meant to pass the time. That hobby turned into a passion; that passion turned into a dream. Today, that dream is becoming True Respite.


Although they’d been dating for nearly two years, it wasn’t until 2011 that Brendan finally convinced Co-Founder Bailey O’Leary to join a brew day. She immediately fell in love with the marriage of art and science found in home brewing. Even more so, she became inspired by the culture surrounding the craft beer movement. Her appetite for embracing new beers in new environments became insatiable as she soaked in every detail of each local brewery experience. For her, the wholeness of the social and cultural moment was every bit as crucial as the tasting of the beer itself.

Energized by the growing scene, Brendan and Bailey spent four of the next five years living in Denver, CO, soaking in the vibe of every local brewery and tap room they could find. Together, after drinking great beer and conversing with former strangers, they often discussed what made each visit special. These shared thoughts and experiences eventually snowballed into a vision for the “perfect” craft beer experience.


Now, True Respite Brewing Company is the culmination of an ever-growing love for the craft beer moment. Creating these moments of true respite, where great beer and a relaxed environment turn strangers into friends, is our primary mission.

In the end, we just want to see you all happy.


 

We Did It.

For three years we battled. We battled naysayers. We battled inertia. We battled the slow onset of doubt that followed rejections from thirty different lending institutions. (This is the actual number. It is not an exaggeration.) But today… today, we don’t need to worry about a single one of those battles anymore. Those ones are behind us. For a moment, we’ve ascended to our own nirvana. You might even say we are experiencing something extremely valuable: True Respite. Why?

All of our loans have been approved.

We weren’t expecting the phone call on Wednesday when, while on a cycling trip through a very sticky 90+ degree heat, Brendan’s phone started ringing from an awkward back zipper pocket in his cycling shirt. After a precarious bit of fumbling and while coasting to a slow halt, he answered to a cheerful voice on the other end offering congratulations. Bailey, unaware, pulled up beside him and waited patiently to restart the journey.

The conversation didn’t last long. When it was finished, Brendan turned to Bailey and simply said, “That was Craig. We did it.” That’s when the rush hit.

 

Funding Moment
Us just moments after learning that our final loan had been approved

We leaped and cheered and hugged and high-fived and shouted without reserve. A couple of friendly guys who were stopped in their car at the intersection beside us laughed and danced a bit along with us, not knowing what incredible news we were celebrating.

 

Funding Moment Scene
The unfittingly plain scene surrounding our moment of great joy

The weight that was finally lifted off of our shoulders was immeasurable. That’s when we knew it was really happening. Like–really happening. We celebrated with a family trip to the local fro-yo spot and let our minds race to fill insanely long lists of things that must be done. It was all so incredible and terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

This morning we had a conference call with all of our lenders to choreograph the oncoming blitz of loan closings. Timing has proven to be a critical factor and that’s especially going to be so when considering the delivery of our equipment. Therefore, it was decided that we had to get it on order as quickly as possible to cut the lead time as short as possible and to fully inject all of our required equity to satisfy the lender requirements.

As of today, our brewing equipment is officially on order.

mug of beer
A similar size and comparable model to the brewhouse that will grace the True Respite brewery

We’re absolutely giddy with excitement! The next major step is to sign our lease. We expect that to occur mid-to-late next week. Monday we have our final walk-through scheduled with the landlord and we will likely need to make a few minor tweaks to the formal lease document before finally being able to sign it. At that point, we’ll make a major announcement and let everyone know the address where we’ll be opening.

From here, it’s a sprint. We’ve stacked our dominoes well and are now having a blast helping them tip one after the other. Just today, we received our Design & Development documents from our architect. We cannot wait to share more about the incredible brewery and tap room we’re bringing you. We’ve designed something completely unique that will immerse every one of you deeply into what True Respite really is.

Hang on to your hats, folks. This wild ride is just getting started.

 

Cheers!

Brendan & Bailey

Pouring Our First Festival

This past Saturday, for the first time ever, we poured our beer for the public at the King Farm Wine and Music Festival. It was a huge and exciting milestone for True Respite. Naturally, it was rainy and cold when we arrived but it still felt amazing to put up our brand new True Respite tent, pull out our kegs, and set up the jockey box. We cannot wait until this is a regular weekend occurrence for us!

Fortunately, the Maryland Comptroller’s office issued us a homebrew exhibition permit that allowed us to participate in the event without yet being a licensed brewery. We’d like to offer a huge THANK YOU to them for working with us on a short timeline!

We served three beers: Our Roasted English Stout, our Belgian Dubbel, and our Grisette-Au-Vin Blanc. Each beer offers something distinctly different.

Our Beers

The Roasted English Stout is jet black in color and very malt forward with hints of nuts, dark roasted coffee, caramel, and chocolate. We were shocked by how many “stout people” we met, especially at a wine festival! Those who self-identified as “stout people” absolutely gushed over this beer. It was quite humbling–though we definitely agreed.

The Belgian Dubbel is complex, malty, and presents a full-on estery Trappist ale flavor profile. It’s a deep reddish-copper color with a thick, long-lasting head and a moderate-to-high alcohol content. This seemed to be our “Goldilocks” beer that hit the sweet spot for most beer drinkers. It was appreciated by dark and light beer lovers alike.

The Grisette-Au-Vin Blanc is light and refreshing. It was born as a marriage between a sessionable saison and a white wine. The result was fabulously crisp and drinkable, drawing many oohs and ahhs from people who claimed they’re not usually “beer people.” We think this beer really got its moment in the sun due to the fact that the festival was both a beer and wine festival.

We are very proud to say that each beer was very well received. It was an incredible feeling to have our customers repeatedly ask to buy growlers or where to find our beer in stores. Unfortunately, we had to let everyone know that we can’t sell our beer yet. Still, it was nice to be able to refer them to Facebook and our other social media outlets so that when the day comes, they’ll know! (“And here–take a sticker!”)

It was extremely special to us that our daughter, Aislinn, was there with us to help serve the public for the first time. We got some great pictures with her and we’ll make sure to tell her all about it when she’s old enough to understand and appreciate it. We missed our son, Aidan, dearly but knew that if our two year old was with us we’d be chasing him around all day and would not be able to give our full attention to our guests.

Good Crowd

Overall, it was such an honor to get to participate in this event. We had so much fun! We LOVED being able to share our story with so many wonderful members of the community. We also loved learning more about our customers and getting excited together for the arrival of True Respite in Rockville. It was a nice bonus that many guests noted we’ll be walking distance from their homes and jobs. In fact, Google Maps told us the festival grounds were just a 29 minute walk from our future brewery location.

We want to take this moment to say thank you to everyone who stopped by. The Rockville community is incredible. Everyone was so welcoming and you all deserve the very best brewery in the DC metro area. We can’t wait to bring it to you!

Cheers

Cheers!

The True Respite Team

Finding Home

We’d decided long ago that Montgomery County was going to be home for us. The people are wonderful, the cities and towns are beautiful and lively, and there is not nearly enough local beer to go around. What took some time to figure out, though, was where in Montgomery County we would finally set our roots. Each locale has its own charm and its own long list of pros.

Silver Spring is a dense, diverse city with very easy access to DC and a beer friendly attitude. The downtown area has also undergone a strong retail revitalization and that progress continues to this day, adding flavorful restaurants alongside fine art galleries as the city continues to define its culture.

Bethesda is a very clean community with a strong affection for local business. The continued success of Bethesda Row as a culinary and retail destination is a living testament to the sort of appreciation the city has for idiosyncratic businesses touting their wares.

But despite the clear pros for these other front runners, we have chosen Rockville to call our home.

Rockville Town Square

Rockville is the perfect balance of accessibility, affordability, and being an all around attractive place to live. Rockville’s beer scene is also flourishing of late with Gordon Biersch and 7 Locks anchoring the scene. We’re looking forward to contributing our own brand to the beer culture that is blossoming here as we continue to usher the craft beer revolution into Montgomery County.

This isn’t speculation or some passing dream. It’s real. It’s happening. We’ve signed a letter-of-intent on a property in Rockville. The only obstacles standing in the way now are completion of our fundraising round (which is very close to finishing) and approval of our loan application. Once these steps are complete, we’ll create a formal press release to announce the exact property we are moving into.

We are confident in our ability to complete these steps in a timely manner so that we can be serving the great residents of Montgomery County our beer before Summer 2017 arrives.

We look forward to serving you!

Cheers,

The True Respite Team

Rubbing Elbows with the Biggest Names in Craft Beer

Savor 2016 was a fantastic welcoming party to DC! The biggest names in craft beer were all around and I had plenty of opportunity to bump elbows with all sorts of people who were willing to share a kind word and some great advice. Dogfish Head Founder Sam Calagione (pictured with me below) took some time to discuss the future of craft beer:

image

The best conversation of the night happened early on with Richard Norgrove of Bear Republic as we discussed what could have been a large feud over branding. (This story was covered in “What’s In A Name?“) It was cathartic to stand with him discussing old issues and laughing them off over a freshly poured Bear Republic beer. New friends are great, but new friends made from old disputes are even better. This right here is why we decided to leave a life of being cattle herded from cubicle to cubicle and instead join the craft beer revolution:

image

The festival itself was spectacular! The Brewer’s Association did a fantastic job making the event feel cultured and high end while still leaving plenty of room for aimless wandering and tons of beer and food tasting. I especially loved the way the food and beer were presented together as a single paired entity:

image

I tried a lot of great beer and dishes, but my absolute favorites were the sweet chili fried chicken and the Allagash/Deschutes Belgian Pale collaboration called Pettygrove’s Chance. This beer in particular was featured at the Salon covering the sourcing of local ingredients for beer production where we were also treated to a very special tasting of a few of the two breweries’ rarest specialty brews:

image

All in all, it was a fantastic night of great food, great beer, and great company. I had certainly found my True Respite for the evening, and I encourage all of you craft beer fanatics out there to make sure to include Savor on your list of must-see beer events.

Cheers!

Brendan

What’s In A Name?

We are True Respite Brewing Company. We weren’t always, though…

Way back when, we started with a whole lot of enthusiasm and a heck of a name: Rebellion Brewing Company. It was a strong word with historic ties to the region. It was symbolic in the fight against boring pale macrobrew. In a word, it was perfect. The vision for the brand was clear—we even had a pretty neat logo:

image

Sure, some brewery out in California had brewed a beer under that name a few times. But after all, it was just the name of one beer; not an entire brewery. We felt confident we’d be able to work out some sort of agreement with the owner and we’d both move on our happy ways. Boy, were we naïve. You may also have noticed that this crest proudly announces that we were established in Loudoun County, VA, in 2015. That, in and of itself, is a story for another day. In the end, the biggest hypothetical headline resulting from our first foray into branding was: “Rookie Entrepreneurs Burst Their Way into Multimillion Dollar Branding Hell.”

Before we get further into this story, we’d like to clarify that the following sequence of events was only what we understood from a couple verbal encounters with a primary stakeholder in this story. We have not verified the extent to which these storylines outside of our own team did or did not happen. We just know that we became very scared of stepping on some rather large toes…

Let’s start from the beginning. Long ago, Bear Republic Brewing Company began experimenting with various single hop IPAs under the name “Rebellion.” Under this name, they brewed IPAs where they kept the same malts but varied the hop varietal to showcase the different flavor and scent profiles of their various hops. What they didn’t do, originally, was trademark the name. It wasn’t until early 2014 that Bear Republic finally submitted the formal paperwork to take full ownership of their beer’s trade name.

Along came Boston Beer Co. (a.k.a. Sam Adams.) In a move of strength, Boston Beer flooded the market with a new beer called “Rebel IPA” without discussing with Bear Republic or filing for a trademark. Instead, using their new market share as evidence that the “Rebel” brand and trademark should rightfully belong to them, they brought suit against Bear Republic for trying to trademark the word “Rebellion.” Curious, is it not? “Rebellion” and “Rebel” are not even the same word. How far can a brand reach? Does trademarking the singular of a collective thereby trademark the collective as well? If I trademark “Zombie,” do I also have the right to “Horde?” And what about Bear Republic? They’d been using the name for years before Boston Beer flooded the market with their own version.

Meanwhile, Bear Republic had apparently been working some form of a branding or distribution deal with LucasArts via Disney. Obviously, as new owners of the Star Wars franchise, Disney had special interest in the word “Rebellion” specifically, and as such, may have been willing to back the legal efforts of Bear Republic to protect the trademark. What resulted was a multi-million dollar legal Mexican Standoff as we at True Respite more or less walked into the saloon with a loaded six-shooter and one really bad attitude.

The threats flowed like sweat and tequila and we ditched our request to share the word so fast our spurs left scorch marks under the swinging saloon doors. We imagine the faint smell of burnt hickory lingered for weeks. That wasn’t our fight.

It left us in a bit of a hole, though, as we realized we had not only lost our brand but that the availability of any name for a brewery or beer was now a possible source of litigation even if the exact word hadn’t been used before. As a fledgling startup with naught but an idea, we wouldn’t have one hundredth of the cash needed to protect ourselves in court. We had to find something that had never been done before in any form or fashion.

Foolishly, we first considered The Holiday Brewing Company. Sure, Christmas Ale was a seasonal style, but nobody can claim a trademark to a style, right? Well—except that time Lagunitas tried suing Sierra Nevada over their IPA lettering. Or the fact that Full Sail claims ownership of “Session” despite the popularity of “sessionable” styles in the craft scene. So we already recognized we were on potentially rocky ground. Then, almost prophetically, one gentleman in Pennsylvania stumbled across our information and informed us that he and his partner(s) had already intended to open Holiday Brewing Company in… where else… Hollidaysburg, PA. Although they were more friendly, in the end, we passed on that brand. It was clearly far too risky.

At this point, we were bitter. No—we were angry. How could our brewing brothers and sisters be so selfish and so shamelessly aggressive? Where was the camaraderie and the “us vs the big guys” mentality that we witnessed as customers to the craft beer industry? We took that disdain straight to brand town: Odium Brewing Company. To us, it sounded regal and epic. It had an old world feel to it, almost like a Roman colosseum. It felt big, bold, and dangerous. After all, it meant “extreme dislike or hatred as a result of someone’s actions.” It was retaliatory. It was deliciously disobedient. “No bullies allowed,” would be our defiant motto.

Our friends and family, however, overwhelmingly hated it and repeatedly told us, “that doesn’t fit you at all,” and, “it sounds like odious. Gross.” In the end, we decided they were right. We had let the negative nancies out there drive us into trying to be something we’re not. We love beer because of the culture of beer drinkers. We love beer because it lets us escape into a relaxing place where flavor profiles and ingredient origins are all that matter. Rather than letting the big bad guys win, we had to persevere and be true to ourselves. We knew we could breed the originality we needed to create a strong brand that truly represented us and our values. And finally, we did that:

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True Respite is wholly ours. The word “Respite” doesn’t even exist elsewhere in the brewosphere. Somehow, we managed to put our heads together and collectively scour the English language for an available word that really captured our spirits and our vision for a communal tap room where the most pressing issue is what style to order next. The keyhole at the center of our brand represents the gateway to that relaxing environment. Now, we are the proud owners of the “True Respite” brand, and we are very excited to continue on our way as we bring you, Montgomery County, MD, another great chapter in the storied history of DC beer.

Cheers!!!