Stone Brewery sues Keystone over "stone" name

Stone Brewing company is suing MillerCoors, claiming its recent Keystone rebrand is too close to their company name.

The Keystone line of light beers was rebranded to emphasize the “Stone” in their name, putting it in a large font on the side of their cans and in their new marketing.

“Stone, known for being the antithesis to ‘Big Beer,’ has long waved a flag of bold character, individualism and independence,” the press release annoucing the suit said. “The craft beer pioneer feels that it has no choice but to combat MillerCoors' aggressive marketing moves, which abandon Keystone's own heritage by falsely associating with the one true STONE®.”

“Keystone’s rebranding is no accident,” said Dominic Engels, Stone Brewing CEO. “MillerCoors tried to register our name years ago and was rejected. Now its marketing team is making 30-pack boxes stacked high with nothing but the word ‘STONE’ visible. Same for Keystone’s social media, which almost uniformly has dropped the ‘Key.’ We will not stand for this kind of overtly and aggressively deceptive advertising. Frankly, MillerCoors should be ashamed.”

Keystone light is brewed in seven locations nationwide, including Irwindale, Calif.

The lawsuit speaks to the history of Stone Brewing: the 22-year old brewery made its name by producing incredibly hoppy beers, and its aggressive branding of beers like Arrogant Bastard nudged brewing away from American Light Lagers. Stone, along with Karl Strauss, Coronado, Ballast Point, Pizza Port and AleSmith defined San Diego as a brewing destination in the ‘90s.

Now, San Diego County has seen a boom in craft breweries — there are more than 150 operating — production and sales of craft beer has slowed from the boom a few years ago.

Big beer brands, such as AB Inbev and MillerCoors have responded to the changes in the marketplace by purchasing successful craft beer brands, such as Bend, Ore.’s 10 Barrel and San Diego’s Saint Archer.

“This lawsuit is a clever publicity stunt with a multi-camera, tightly-scripted video featuring Stone’s founder Greg Koch,” Marty Maloney, MillerCoors media relations manager said in a statement. “Since Keystone’s debut in 1989, prior to the founding of Stone Brewing in 1996, our consumers have commonly used ‘Stone’ to refer to the Keystone brand and we will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process.”

The public refutation of big beer versus craft beer isn’t new. Last October, the Brewers Association launched a campaign to “buy big beer,” which attempted to crowdsource $213 billion to buy AB Inbev. Nearly $4 million was raised, largely helping to bring attention to their cause. Also, in May, downtown San Diego breweries collaborated to make an “11 Barrel IPA” as a liquid rebuttal to the opening on 10 Barrel in East Village.

“You can end all of this right here and now by one simple move that reinforces your brand that you’ve built,” Stone’s executive chairman and co-founder Koch said in the video. “Put the ‘Key’ back in ‘Keystone.’ Stop using Stone as a stand-alone word. It’s ours.”

Reach the writer at: daniel.wheaton@sduniontribune.com or @theheroofthyme

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