The Tale of Two Rails has closed. After duking it out privately in court since last September, Railtown Brewing Company and Byron Station LLC reached a settlement regarding the trademark infringement from the name “Railbird Taphouse and Brewery.” Today, the Byron Center brewery has unveiled its new title: “Alebird Taphouse and Brewery.” It’s hard to believe that Alebird fought tooth and nail to a change so simple. To think this legal entanglement, the backlash from the beer community, the wasted energy that suspended their opening date, all balanced on the crux of an ‘R’ —it’s almost hilarious from an outsider’s perspective.
To Justin Buiter, co-founder of Railtown Brewing Company, I’m certain the situation’s absurdity amounted to more migraines than laughs. “In an industry where camaraderie and collaboration typically prevail, we’re disappointed that getting here had to take so long and involved attorneys,” Buiter said in their press release today.
While the craft beer market continues to welcome new members on its shelves, this story signals that friendly relationships with competition are important but brand protection comes first. If Railtown didn’t object to Railbird’s infringement, the flood gates could open for others to operate under other “Rail” names, ultimately watering down recognition for an identity they’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
Still it can prove tricky navigating that perception between bully and business owner. In this case, Railtown exits this confrontation with grace. Compromise was on the table from the jump, and Railtown had even offered to help pay for some of the rebranding fees. It’s a shame the name switch required coercion but hopefully the two breweries can avoid a lifetime grudge match. “We wish the crew over at Alebird Taphouse and Brewery well,” Buiter said. “We’re excited to see what they bring to the growing Grand Rapids beer scene and the local Byron Center community.”
For us craft beer enthusiasts, a few pints are in order to wash away the memory of this unfortunate case. I’d say a couple glasses of Peanut Butter Cocoa Time at Railtown should do the trick.
Here are the rest of the details from the press release.
DUTTON, Mich. — Railtown Brewing Company has reached a settlement with Byron Station, LLC, a company Railtown accused of trademark infringement. Byron Station, LLC sought to name its yet-to-be-established brewpub “Railbird Taphouse and Brewery.”
Byron Station, LLC has agreed to change its brewpub’s name to “Alebird Taphouse and Brewery,” cease using “Railbird Taphouse and Brewery” as its name, withdraw any trademarks including the word “Railbird” and refrain from seeking further trademarks including the word. The company will keep its existing logo, referred to as “the burgundy chicken.”
Railtown Brewing Company has allowed Byron Station, LLC the right to name one beer “Railbird,” which may only be sold on tap at Byron Station’s premises in Byron Center, Michigan and may not be packaged. The company may also produce merchandise relating to the “Railbird” beer, so long as the “Alebird Taphouse and Brewery” name is clearly tied to it. Railtown also agreed not to use the word “Railbird” in any manner.
Byron Station, LLC declined to agree to confidentiality or a non-disparagement clause and chose not to collaborate with Railtown Brewing Company on a joint press release regarding the lawsuit.
“All along the way, we’ve been trying to find a middle ground that would work for both of us,” said Justin Buiter, co-founder of Railtown Brewing Company.
That began when Railtown Brewing Company approached Byron Station, LLC in May 2018 to notify the company that its brewpub’s name infringed on Railtown Brewing Company’s trademark. Railtown requested that the company change its branding and offered financing to assist in covering the costs of establishing a new name and brand.
“We said, basically, ‘We just want to make sure that you guys are going to be able to open your doors, and that a name change isn’t going to be the thing that keeps you from opening,’” Buiter said.
Byron Station, LLC refused that offer and continued to use the “Railbird” name, which led Railtown Brewing Company to reluctantly pursue a lawsuit.
“We’re relieved to have reached a settlement,” Buiter said. “In an industry where camaraderie and collaboration typically prevail, we’re disappointed that getting here had to take so long and involved attorneys.”
Now that the lawsuit is in the rearview, Buiter is looking forward to re-centering on what he and co-founder Gim Lee got into the business for.
“With this behind us, we can get back to focusing on what we love: beer,” Buiter said. “We wish the crew over at Alebird Taphouse and Brewery well. We’re excited to see what they bring to the growing Grand Rapids beer scene and the local Byron Center community.”