Get back radler

22:53, Jan 30 2014


Say that word to a beer nerd in 2011, and you were sure to get a conversation going.

I guess that's what happens when a brewing company makes a beer, names it after a style, trademarks the style, then - quite legally - forces another brewery to not name their beer after the style.

Radlergate, involving Green Man and DB-owned Monteith's, was arguably the biggest beer-related business story since the sale of Mac's to Lion in 1999.

At the end of it, DB were understandably happy

But some people were angry,


Other people were really angry.

And then everyone was quiet. 

Really, really quiet.

As far as I could tell, the issue died off; people seemed keen to let the issue lie.

But in the background, Andrew Cole of The Moutere Inn was beavering away from his base in Nelson on ways to get the decision changed.

He has since passed the task on to Carl Hadler - beer writer and brewer - who is keen to get the decision revoked, and has launched a campaign to make it happen: Get Back Radler.

As it looks like Intelectual Property Office of New Zealand is happy with its decisions, his tactic is to go through the Commerce Commission to force a change.

The Commerce Commission has told him in writing that there is a way to push the issue on.

''Information we receive from consumers and businesses is often the first sign of an issue in the marketplace,'' the commission said.

''We will record the information you sent us [about DB's trademark allegedly breaching the law] and may use it if we get similar complaints in the future''

He is arguing DB is breaching the Fair Trading Act by labelling their 5 per cent lemon and lime flavoured drink a radler, when a radler is a mix of lemonade and lager.

I have brought this up before, but not with radler.

I think it is misleading that DB calls Tui - a beer which wins awards as a New Zealand Draught - an East India Pale Ale.

Hadler is also submitting DB is breaking the Commerce Act by not allowing brewers to label their real radlers as such, thereby being anti-competitive.

Hadler told me he only took up the baton after bumping into Dixon two months ago.

''When the court case failed, he did quite a lot of work trying to find another way [to get the decision changed].

''He talked to other people, but they were not keen to take it further.''

He admits he was one of ''those people'' who became quite angry after the decision.

''I didn't drink DB products for years.''

So why take up the torch now? Why bother, when the issue seems dead in the water?

''There is a large percentage of people in the industry who are really against [the decision], because it is undoubtedly the wrong one,'' Hadler says.

''I stick by my principles quite a bit, and it seems worth a go.''

The main argument boils down to this: radler is a style, and styles should not be trademarked.

IPONZ's decision says the radler style was not well known here at the time, so the trademark could stand.

But what if it a winemaker had done the same thing with sauvignon blanc or pinot noir years ago?

Or if it had been done with English Breakfast tea?

Or Anzac biscuits?

''This is business, but [DB having the radler trademark] is unfair and it's wrong,'' Hadler says.

''It doesn't sit well with me, just sitting there and no one doing anything about it.''

He knows he is up against people's apathy, but has drawn up a letter for anyone to download and post off to the Commerce Commission.

He hopes he can get enough people mailing in to convince the Commerce Commission something is wrong.

He has a precedent to work off as well, after Heineken lost the IP rights to radler in the Czech Republic earlier this year.

It is only early days, but I wish him all the best.

In my opinion, which involves little knowledge of trademark law in New Zealand, the same should happen to DB in New Zealand.

Trademarking a style is wrong and should not happen for anything - not wine, not tea, not biscuits, and not beer.

Postscript: It is easy to bash DB and accuse it of bullying small players out of the market, but there have been trademark attempts by smaller breweries which raised a few eyebrows.

Hancock & Co tried to trademark ''Tribute'' soon after Renaissance won numerous awards for their barleywine with the same name. 

Thankfully, Hancock dropped the submission after attention was drawn to it.

Stoke has also made applications to trademark ''snakebite'' - the mix of beer and cider which is one of the worst drink mixes known to man - and ''hoppit'', which was already the name of beers brewed by both Fork & Brewer and Moa.

While the snakebite trademark was abandoned, they succeeded with hoppit.

Then we have Schipper's Beer, who has an application to trademark ''Chinook'' being considered right now.

Chinook, the name of a Schipper's brew, is also the name of a hop variety.

What next, a baker trademarking cream and butter?

There are also dozens of beers called Chinook, and trademarking the name would require them all to be renamed and relabelled before being released to the New Zealand market.

Here is hoping Schipper's owner Niels Schipper sees some sense and throws that trademark application in the trash.

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Manawatu Standard