2011 saw an abundance of litigious battles involving craft brewers. The President of Bell’s Brewery, Larry Bell, was at the center of two notable legal disputes, most recently involving the Novato Calif. Based Winery Exchange.
Bell, who sent a cease and desist letter to the company in June, claims the company is infringing on the Bell’s Brewery trademark.
“By trading on our mark, they are giving someone the opportunity to cause confusion,” said Bell.
Bell, referring to the Winery Exchange’s production of a beer named ‘Copper Bell,’ said that the product is not only being sold in their home market of Ann Arbor but also being deliberately placed on retailers’ shelves next to his own beer.
“We have photo evidence of the Copper Bell beer next to ours and we think it is causing confusion in the marketplace,” he said. “We believe that what we present in court will prove this confusion exists and that we will prevail in the case.”
The Copper Bell brand is distributed in cans, a move Bell plans to make in 2012.
“If I had to guess when, I would say late summer or early fall,” Bell said in reference to when cans will hit the marketplace. “A 500 can-per-minute canning line is the plan, but we aren’t quite ready to get rockin’ and rollin’ just yet.”
In September, Bell announced a $52 million investment (spread over five years) to expand the brewery. $17 million was invested in 2011 alone, allowing for the addition of 24 new 400-barrel fermenters and a 200-barrel brewhouse.
“We are planning for some very healthy growth next year,” Bell said. “The first half of the year we are going to make sure we supply our existing markets, and then we can think about new territories. If we think we have enough product for our current footprint, then we will slowly begin expanding.”
Bell said the company will produce about 180,700 barrels of beer in 2011, up from 153,973 in 2010, a growth of 14.8 percent. The company is planning for 30 percent growth in 2012. Bell’s was ranked by the Brewers Association as the 8th largest craft brewer (volume) in 2010.