Common ale-ments

Stuart Fuller

Earlier this week at the INTA Leadership conference in Fort Lauderdale, there was a very interesting session on the growth in craft brewing and how it has affected the management of intellectual property disputes. I say interesting as there was free beer on offer.

That's a tad disingenuous to the topic and the speakers though. The craft beer market has been one of the global success stories in the food and beverage sector in the past few years. But there’s constant debate about what constitutes a craft brewer, and the session tried to give an idea of who could and couldn't call themselves part of the hipster generation.

The discussion featured representatives from a handful of brewers − some very small (‘micro brewers’), some established and one that had recently been acquired by a major brewer − as well as an IP attorney who had experience in dealing with trademark and IP infringements between brewers, counterfeiters and general bad actors who had tried to take advantage of the massive growth in craft brewing.

As of the end of 2015, there were 4,269 craft breweries in the US alone; the market grew by 8% in the second half of the year. Many people have questioned whether this is simply ‘the craft brew bubble’, but indicators such as volume share of alcohol sales (now 12%) and revenue share (about 21% of total alcohol sales) suggest that this isn't a fad or something that traditional businesses in the food and beverage sector can ignore.

One aspect that wasn't covered was the impact of domain names. With more than 500 new breweries bottling (or canning) their first beer each year, the use of a dotBeer domain could become a valuable digital asset for brewers. But so far there have been few examples of breweries, big or small, actively using the gTLD.

Just down the road from the conference center in Fort Lauderdale is the Hollywood Brewery, located on the popular Boardwalk facing the ocean. Hollywood saw the opportunity that the dotBeer gTLD offered − especially as Hollywood.com, which has been registered for over 20 years, was available. The use of the highly relevant new gTLD has enabled the brewery to rank first in Google for the term ‘Hollywood Beer’, even though the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood isn't the most famous, or most searched for.

However, Hollywood Brewery seem to be a lone voice in the world of new gTLDs. There are only three dotBeer registrations in the Alexa top one million rankings, with the highest-ranking site, daiki.beer, a website about a Japanese anime character and nothing to do with beer.

So far, there are around 11,000 dotBeer TLDs registered, with nearly 60% inactive or parked. It seems crazy that more famous brands and craft brewers are not yet engaged in using the TLD − after all, that one four-character word epitomizes their whole business and is one of the few globally recognized words. For the sake of a few dollars, new craft brewers are missing out on an opportunity to build their digital brand.

Take five of the biggest craft beers in the US; even there, the results are a mixed bag:

  • Blue Moon – Bluemoon.Beer registered to Coors but domain does not resolve
  • Dogfish – Dogfish.Beer registered to the brewery; domain resolves to dogfish.com
  • Ballast Point – Ballastpoint.Beer registered to the brewery; domain resolves to ballastpoint.com
  • Brooklyn Brewery – Brooklyn.Beer not registered (due to registry hold on name)
  • Sierra Nevada – Sierranevada.Beer registered to a third party; directs to a parking page

If I was a craft brewer, rather than a craft beer consumer, I'd be all over the dotBeer gTLD, creating individual landing pages for each of my brews. To make the investment pay for itself in most instances means selling two more beers a year on the domain name − that's hardly a risk for even the smallest brewer, let alone the multinational ‘super brewers’.

For now, I will continue my search for more breweries and bars using a dotBeer. Cover for me − I may be some time.