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Calgary Craft Beer: Banded Peak sale raises questions over Barley Belt trademark

When news broke that Calgary craft brewer Banded Peak Brewing was being sold to beer giant Labatt Breweries of Canada, few at the time were thinking, “how does this affect the Barley Belt?”

The Barley Belt is tucked into the Manchester and Highfield industrial areas of central Calgary – a place that through a confluence of events, has evolved into a hub of craft brewing in the city.

When the first breweries in the area got together for what was initially a Jane’s Walk, they realized they had the opportunity to build and market the area as a craft brewing destination in Calgary.  At that time there were six brewers. Today, there are 13 (including a distiller).

One of the initial brewers involved was Banded Peak.

“The breweries have come in and changed the texture of the neighbourhood. It’s unpolished compared to other neighbourhoods in Calgary. It offers something different that your average Calgarian hasn’t seen if they haven’t been to Vancouver or Portland,” Banded Peak co-owner Colin McLean told LiveWire Calgary back in 2018.

At the time, as the group hopped ahead, Banded Peak secured the trademark rights to the Barley Belt name for the brewers.

McLean told LiveWire Calgary Wednesday, after their sale to Labatt, that they originally had to protect it because others were pilfering it after it was coined back in 2018.

“There were influencers that were using the mark, and we just wanted to protect it for the group so it didn’t get diluted,” he said.

Barley Belt trademark transferred to Labatt

Map on the Barley Belt website showing tour locations and proposed future infrastructure in the area. SCREENSHOT

With the sale of Banded Peak to Labatt, that trademark has been transferred to the new owner.

“Banded Peak applied for the trade mark [sic] Barley Belt in 2018 as a means of protecting the trade mark exclusively for group members,” said Rob Legate, head of craft brewing for Labatt.

“However, with the purchase Labatt assumed the trade mark temporarily.”

It was one of the undercurrents being discussed by those in Calgary with their eye on the craft brewing scene.

Drew Riley, operator of the website yycbeer.ca, assumed the trademark check would have been a part of Labatt’s due diligence prior to the sale.

“I definitely think that Labatt counted it,” Riley said.

Riley surmised that many of the brewers associated with the Barley Belt would swiftly drop the marketing tag should Labatt’s influence impact the goodwill of the area’s branding.

It appears, however, that work is ongoing to have the Barley Belt trademark transferred to an association, founded by the area breweries.

“Banded Peak and the members of Barley Belt have taken steps to create an association and transfer ownership of the trade mark to the association,” Legate told LiveWire.

“All 13 Barley Belt breweries have agreed to this approach and are working to create the association.  When it’s established, Labatt and Banded Peak will transfer ownership of the trade mark and relinquish all rights to the association.”

McLean confident Calgary craft brewers can come together

Apparently, those talks to form the association have been a challenge, according to some brewers – in an industry whose past self-praise included their ability to collaborate.

There’s uncertainty among many of them as to the motive of Labatt with the association. Brewers we spoke to said the fundamental idea of the association is a good one, but in this case, it depends on who’s around the table and their intentions.

The line between ‘big beer’, as it’s referred, and craft brewers is being blurred, one brewer said.

And though Labatt’s statement indicates all brewers are on board with the Barley Belt association, we’ve been told this isn’t the case. It’s still very much in limbo and there’s no consensus.

It’s going to take more time for brewers to figure out this trademark glitch.

McLean is confident everything can be worked out among them. It was about community building when the brewers first came together, and he said the trademark will remain in the hands of that Calgary craft brewing community.

“At first the association was loosely put together to build that community and building capacity to get infrastructure changed in there and get people talking about craft beer in Calgary,” McLean said.

“I don’t think with any of these changes that it’s going to change that.”