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Not So Similar Goods

November 29, 2016

Here’s a little secret. I’m (((Jewish))). Shh.

That probably would have been hard to tell, given all my posts about the Jewish Food Festival, those mournful posts about missing bread on Passover, and those whiny posts about having to fast on Yom Kippur. And then there’s all the stuff about Shabbat every Friday and our family’s tradition of having roast chicken and challah.

My point in telling you that today actually has nothing to do with politics or the rising tide of anti-semitism. It’s really just to call attention to my implicit biases. We all have them. One of these days I’ll actually take the test.

It’s true, I have a certain affection for my culture. Which isn’t to say I love all of it. While I like Jewish humor, I’ve never really understood the appeal of Jackie Mason. Old Jews Telling Jokes, on the other hand, is fantastic.

What does any of this have to do with food? Good question. It doesn’t. What it has to do with is a local brewery with a national footprint. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called Shmaltz.

One thing that Shmaltz does is use Jewish humor in its product names. There’s even a beer named after Lenny Bruce. Some are clever, like Slingshot which references the biblical story of David and Goliath. In this case the small craft brewery is taking down the big industrial giants with its Slingshot lager. Other beers are a little cheeky, like the Circum Session Ale with just a drop of pomegranate juice. Get it?

Oddly, it wasn’t the beer that referenced snipping penises that got the brewery in trouble.

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert with Moses, the story goes that God provided the people with Manna to eat. There’s a science-based explanation for what that might have been, but let’s put that aside for a moment. So Shmaltz came up with an India Pale Ale called HOP MANNA (I’m not shouting, the label is in all caps). The joke is that these hops are so good and so plentiful, it’s like they were sent from God.

Much like many successful products, Hop Manna received a few line extensions. The heavier dose of hops in the Imperial version of the IPA was called HOP MANIA (but the word “MANIA” was stamped over the “MANNA” name). And then there was a fruited one with hot peppers which was called HOP MOMMA (again the “MOMMA” was stamped over the “MANNA” name). Really, I thought this last beer should have been called “HOT MOMMA” but nobody ever asked.

Still with me?

Okay. So the brewery decided to put all three of these HOP MANNA beers into a multipack. Which, of course got it’s own cheeky name. A previous multi-pack was called Shtick in a Box, which had a round hole in one side, referencing the classic SNL skit. Naturally, the box with three MANNA beers was called “MANNAge a trois” with the ever so suggestive description “IPA 3-WAY VARIETY 12-PACK.”

And that’s what got the brewery sued. They were not sued by the arbiters of good taste or the comedy police. The suit was brought by Sutter Home producers of Menage a Trois wine. Apparently, the good folks at the winery think, let me get this right:

Defendant’s MANNAGE A TROIS mark is confusingly similar to Plantiff’s MENAGE A TROIS Mark, given that the marks are virtually identical, are similar in sight and sound, share the similar terms MANNAGE/MENAGE in association with the identical term “A TROIS” and use such marks on similar goods

Can I just say that this is complete hogwash. Who is confusing a multi pack of beer for a bottle of wine? Who is confusing the clear branding of Shmaltz Beer which is all over the carton for an elegantly designed wine label? Who thinks that the bright colored, all caps, bombastic beer box is even remotely related to the low key script printed on the wine bottle?

Plus, when you take out the innuendo of the French phrase, it simply means “household of three”.

This hasn’t seemed to make the news circuit yet, and I can’t blame the news agencies. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on these days. And from what I can tell, the news is pretty fresh. You can see it yourself on Brendan Palfreyman’s Twitter page, which is where I stumbled upon the news.

Frankly, I don’t even know which is dumber, changing the name of the beer to settle the suit, or fighting this thing to the end to pursue justice. All I know is that I now have not such great feelings about Sutter Home wine for pursuing such an action.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 29, 2016 12:36 pm

    Boo. Hiss. I will certainly stop drinking Sutter Home wine until they drop this frivolous lawsuit.

    I love the wordplay of the Shmaltz brand. One of the very first posts on my blog was this one about a Shmaltz beer that could not be distributed because its label had the word “think” on it, implying a health benefit. What a bunch of characters…

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