Florida Keys Brewing Co. Changes Beer Name After Dogfish Head Threatens Legal Action

[Florida Keys Brewing Co. taps | Photo: Florida Keys Brewery]
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Florida Keys Brewing Co. owner Craig McBay went to check his e-mail and came across what initially appeared to be a positive message from Dogfish Head’s own Sam Calagione. McBay, who runs his brewery with wife Cheryl, also noticed Calagione has something to say of Florida Keys’s Hogfish Amber. “I thought that Sam had tasted it. I was obviously excited. This is a beer that I’m proud of.”

[Hogfish Amber | Photo: Adam Campbell]
Upon delving into the e-mail, McBay wasn’t so sure of his assumption. “I realized he probably never had the beer.”

Mr. Calagione’s message wasn’t complimentary. The Islamorada-based craft-brewery co-owner discovered it to be a notification they’d be looking at some time in court if nothing was done about the name of their Hogfish Amber ale.

Calagione sent the initial e-mail back in August 2016, which surprised McBay. He named Florida Keys’s brew after his love of a Keys past time—killing hogfish via spears. (Yeah…real-old school.) “We love it so much I wanted to name a beer after it.” Actually, the McBays named the majority of their beers to reflect Florida Keys culture.

McBay has been stewing up Hogfish Amber for quite some time (even prior to the birth of their taproom and brewery), so it wasn’t abnormal for him to stress to Calagione “Hogfish” being a respectful wink to how they roll in The Keys. “We actually sent Sam pictures of us holding up a hogfish to let him know how unique the name is.”

[A fisherman with his prized hogfish (not the McBays). | Source: flseagrant.ifas.ufl.edu]
Their photo and other attempts were useless, as Dogfish was staunch in their position. “We went back and forth, but in the end, unless lawyers were going to get involved, the only thing to do was to drop our trademark application and change the name.”

It must’ve been a sad St. Patrick’s Day for the McBays, as theirs was probably spent accepting defeat via “Hogfish Amber” being figuratively buried forever—Spearfish Amber took its place. “[We’d] been dragging our feet on the name change. We didn’t want to do it—to be honest,” McBay said. Unlike Dogfish Head’s outfit, the McBays simply aren’t fiscally able to duke it out in court—both sides eventually came to a binding understanding. “We agreed to the name change, and we made it happen,” McBay added.

While McBay has been cooperative, he’s worried consumers will no longer recognize their brewery’s beloved amber. More, as of September 2016, in addition to all Florida Keys Brewing Co. lines, Hogfish could be purchased at nearly 70, Keys retailers. In the McBays’s pre-distribution days, folks would have to hit up the brewery for their savory suds. Hogfish was a star seller, so he’s hoping the name-change ordeal won’t be detrimental to sales.

[Video: Anat Baron]

Ultimately, it was a smooth situation—Dogfish Head was anything but evil over it all. However, McBay recalls the Delaware-based brewery’s early days when they were against Big Beer outfits that bullied the little guy. Some might remember Calagione’s anti-Big Beer line in the trailer for the 2009 Beer Wars documentary—“They have weapons and we have weapons, and ours might seem like slingshots and theirs seem like giant missiles.”

When thinking of Dogfish Head & Calagione, McBay said, “We are both beer men and fishermen, but I guess they have long lines and we use spearguns.” And why not be proud in gauging your way into some Spearfish Amber? Get into it!

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