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:
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:
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.