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Stone Brewing sues MillerCoors for calling Keystone beer 'Stone'

Stone Brewing sues MillerCoors for calling Keystone beer 'Stone'
Greg Koch, co-founder and executive chairman of Stone Brewing, holds up a can of MillerCoors' Keystone light beer. (Courtesy photo)

Stone Brewing is suing MillerCoors, alleging that the beer giant's recent rebrand of its Keystone line is too close to the San Diego brewery's name.

MillerCoors' Keystone line of light beers was rebranded to emphasize the "Stone" in the Keystone name, putting it in a large font on the line's cans and in the line's marketing. The can spells out Keystone's entire name, but each syllable has its own line, and the can can be rotated so only "Stone" is visible.

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"Keystone's rebranding is no accident," Dominic Engels, chief executive of Stone Brewing, said in a statement. "MillerCoors tried to register our name years ago and was rejected. Now its marketing team is making 30-pack boxes stacked high with nothing but the word 'Stone' visible. Same for Keystone's social media, which almost uniformly has dropped the 'Key.' We will not stand for this kind of overtly and aggressively deceptive advertising."

MillerCoors called the lawsuit a publicity stunt.

"Since Keystone's debut in 1989, prior to the founding of Stone Brewing in 1996, our consumers have commonly used 'Stone' to refer to the Keystone brand," MillerCoors spokesman Marty Maloney said in a statement. "We will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process."

Keystone light is brewed in seven locations nationwide, including Irwindale.

The lawsuit speaks to the history of Stone Brewing: the 22-year-old San Diego brewery made its name by producing very hoppy beers, and its aggressive branding of beers such as Arrogant Bastard nudged brewing away from American light lagers. Stone — along with Karl Strauss, Coronado, Ballast Point, Pizza Port and AleSmith — defined San Diego as a brewing destination in the 1990s.

San Diego County has since seen a boom in craft breweries — there are more than 150 operating — although production and sales of craft beer have slowed compared with a few years ago.

Big beer brands, such as AB Inbev and MillerCoors, have responded to the changes in the marketplace by purchasing successful craft beer brands, such as San Diego's Saint Archer and Bend, Ore.'s, 10 Barrel.

The public challenge of big beer companies by craft breweries isn't new. In October, the Brewers Assn. launched a campaign to "buy big beer," which attempted to crowdsource $213 billion to buy AB Inbev. Nearly $4 million was raised, largely helping to bring attention to their cause. And in May, downtown San Diego breweries collaborated to make an "11 Barrel IPA" as a liquid rebuttal to the opening of a 10 Barrel location in the area.

When it comes to the lawsuit, MillerCoors "can end all of this right here and now by one simple move that reinforces your brand that you've built," Stone Brewing co-founder and Executive Chairman Greg Koch said in a video. "Put the 'Key' back in 'Keystone.' Stop using 'Stone' as a standalone word. It's ours."

Wheaton writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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