Fredericton brewer mistakenly promotes Beer-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named

A brief ‘Moose Drool’ appearance online was an innocent mistake and not a trademark violation, according to NB Liquor. The mistake marks another incident in a series of recent cross-border beer battles.

A brief ‘Moose Drool’ appearance online was a near trademark violation

A picture of Moo(se) Drool. Moose Drool is, by law, only able to be called Moo Drool in New Brunswick. (Instagram)

The Moose was loose for a week, but now New Brunswick Liquor says the issue is moot — or 'moo,' in this case.

With cross-border beer in the news from the Supreme Court to Nova Scotia, the corporation says a potential trademark violation was an innocent mistake.

Last week a Fredericton craft brewery started selling Moose Drool, a brown ale by Montana's Big Sky Brewing.

But that's not what you're supposed to call the beer in New Brunswick, the home of Moosehead Breweries. You're not supposed to call it that any other place where the family-owned Saint John brewery sells its beer, apparently.

Moosehead beer (Moosehead Breweries)

Here, it's to be known by the just-as-appetizing name "Moo Drool," a compromise that the two breweries worked out in 2004 to avoid locking antlers in U.S. court.

'An honest mistake'

Last month, though, it showed up bearing its original, real, but potentially illegal name at Graystone Brewing, a downtown Fredericton brew pub.

"I was actually aware of the whole history of the Moose Drool-and-Moosehead incident," said a sheepish Wes Ward, Graystone's owner, during a phone interview from Nashville.

"By no means do I want to step on Moosehead's toes," he said. "It was just an honest mistake."

Wes Ward, Graystone owner, said the Moose Drool incident was an honest mistake. (Catherine Harrop)

Moosehead spokesperson Stella Mok said the situation was "not something that Moosehead normally comments on."

The affair began when New Brunswick Liquor recently ordered Moose Drool — sorry, Moo Drool — for the growler program in its stores. The corporation offers a range of beers on tap for customers looking to fill the refillable bottles.

The Big Sky order came with an important caution, though.

Trademark battle

Two decades ago, the Montana brewery tried to trademark the Moose Drool name in the U.S., sparking a nine-year legal fight with Moosehead, which sells its beer in some American states. Moosehead argued the name might cause confusion for beer buyers.

The two companies reached a settlement in 2004 that reportedly gave Big Sky the right to market the brown ale as Moose Drool in Illinois, Wisconsin and west of the Mississippi River — a key win for what the company said was its top-selling beer.

Everywhere else, however, it couldn't use the word "moose."

A NB Liquor ad featuring Moo - not Moose - Drool as part of its growler program. (CBC News)

Big Sky's sales rep "did remind us that this cannot be called Moose Drool. It had to be called what the agreement was," said Mark Barbour, NB Liquor's spokesperson.

"ANBL was fully aware that it had to be called a name that was approved in Canada. We were reminded of that by the representative."

Because craft beer has a short best-before period, NB Liquor offers whatever it doesn't sell from the growler program to bars and brewery tap rooms. In this case, it put word out it had some extra Moo Drool available.

Instagram post

Ward first met Big Sky co-owner Bjorn Nabozney years ago at a music festival in Montana organized by his wife's cousin, and Nabozney gave him advice on setting up Graystone in Fredericton. He based Graystone's own brown ale recipe on Moose Drool.

So when Ward saw that Big Sky's brown ale was available in the province, "I flipped it to my bar manager, he ordered it, it came in, we threw it online," he said. "I was happy to have it."

In an April 24 post on Instagram and Facebook, Graystone advertised the beer as "Moose Drool Brown."

The Graystone Brewing promotion feature Moose Drool Brown. (Instagram)

"I had just assumed that ANBL had worked out something," Ward said. "I was under the impression that they couldn't have Moose Drool here at all. So when I saw it, I was like, 'They must have worked something out.'"

After CBC News asked about the social media post Monday, NB Liquor contacted Graystone. Brewery staff edited the social media post the same day to change the reference to "Moo Drool."

The amended Graystone Brewing promotion with #MooDroolBrown (Instagram)

Border battles

Barbour considers the mistake minor, but it's the latest cross-border beer brew-haha in a year that has seen both lowbrow and highbrow beer creating contention.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled April 19 that provincial rules that limit imports of large volumes of mass-market canned beer from other provinces are constitutional. They ruled Gerard Comeau of Tracadie was guilty of violating the limits.

Scarcely a week later, NB Liquor was the subject of complaints from Nova Scotia craft breweries that they didn't have fair, reciprocal access to sell their product in New Brunswick craft breweries.

Compared to that, the Moo Drool affair was, well, small beer.

"It's a fun spring," Barbour said. "Beer's becoming a trending topic again."

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