Sierra Nevada beer reels in Brooklyn company’s ‘Narwhal’ name

Whale War One is over! Narwhal Brewery harpooned by Big Beer

The Brooklyn Paper
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Whale War One is over.

The startup Brooklyn beer company formerly known as Narwhal Brewery has lost its epic battle over its name with one of the biggest fish of the sea. The local brewers struck their colors and surrendered to California macro-microbrewers Sierra Nevada, who will continue to make their own Narwhal beer.

The brewers behind the Brooklyn startup, which hopes to open in Bushwick later this year, sought to avoid a lengthy legal duel with the Chico, Calif.-based company, instead remembering that there are always other fish — and whales — in the sea.

The company’s name is now Finback Brewery, after the whale that washed up on a Queens shore and died in late December 2012.

“We finally just decided to bite the bullet,” said co-founder Basil Lee of the decision to toss their original name overboard. “We came to the conclusion that if we changed our name, we could put this behind us and get back to trying to open our brewery.”

Narwhal Brewery had registered in the state as a limited liability corporation in 2011 — but Sierra Nevada created a beer called Narwhal Imperial Stout a year later, and filed for the federal trademark that the Brooklyn brewers had forgotten to secure, thus leading to the dispute.

Lee said that after a series of contacts between the two companies, Sierra Nevada finally agreed to chat with them, brewer to brewer. But the conversations with Sierra Nevada head of operations Brian Grossman, son of company founder and micro-brewing pioneer Ken Grossman, failed to resolve the situation.

“They were not interested in any kind of solution, where everyone would get to distribute [with the name],” said Lee. “We told them that all we wanted to do was sell our beer under this name and that as long as they let us do it and say they wouldn’t pursue any legal action, it would have been fine. But they were basically like, ‘No.’”

Sierra Nevada said that the conversations “didn’t turn up a reasonable alternative to us moving forward with the Narwhal brand.”

“Kevin and Basil can open a brewery with their new name, and we don’t doubt craft fans would be excited to drink their beers,” said spokesman Ryan Arnold.

For his part, Lee said that after the whale war turned ugly, he didn’t think too long about trying to hold onto the name.

“With all the other stuff we’re working on with our brewery, we weren’t going to waste time and money doing that,” said Lee.

The two-person company has lost some capital that it sunk into merchandise and marketing under the Narwhal name — but it was able to amend its existing logo, subbing the whales to make it work.

Lee said there was no doubt in his mind that their libation had to be a leviathan.

“We definitely wanted to stick with a whale,” said Lee.

Finbacks, an endangered species under federal law, may not evoke the same mythical lore as narwhals, but they are the second largest animals on Earth, after blue whales.

“Starting out, a beer’s name has less to do with success,” said Joe Tracy, the cellar manager at Bierkraft, who has been following the dispute. “If the beer’s good, it will sell, whatever the name is.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at
Updated 5:39 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Pat I. from Brooklyn says:
“They were not interested in any kind of solution, where everyone would get to distribute [with the name],” said Lee. “We told them that all we wanted to do was sell our beer under this name and that as long as they let us do it and say they wouldn’t pursue any legal action, it would have been fine. But they were basically like, ‘No.’”

Now here's a fella who has a firm grasp of the tenets of capitalism.

Ladies and gents, this is what happens when you don't tell your kid he lost because he wasn't as good as the other kids.
Jan. 30, 2013, 9:30 am
ty from pps says:
Hey Pat,
You're awesome... is there *anyone* you don't hate? Even small business people making a "real" product is the target of your disdain?

Haven't you said several times you now live in the suburbs? Why do you continue to claim to live in Brooklyn?
Jan. 30, 2013, 9:38 am
Johnny Hammersticks from Brooklyn says:
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the trademark.

No matter what the name is, they should succeed. Microbrews blow these big name beer companies out of the water.
Jan. 30, 2013, 9:57 am
common sense from bay ridge says:
@ty: I guess Pat is from "Ruined Brooklyn". The Brooklyn that lost it's local breweries and was left to choose between Bud and Miller, with an occasional Heineken to liven things up.

Finbacks is an ok name. It's too bad they forgot to register the Narwhal name, but all that matters is what is inside the bottle. Sierra Nevada makes some great products, but the best microbrews are usually the ones closest to home. Hopefully, Finbacks will be as good as Kelso and other local beers.
Jan. 30, 2013, 9:57 am
Pat I. from Brooklyn says:
Ty -

I don't hate everything. In fact I hate very little. So little that I volunteer a good portion of my time to charities.

But hipsters have a tendency to blame others when thy fail. A stupid business idea (or a badly run business) fails and they blame locals for not supporting locals.

My issue with this brewery (and I do not drink so i really don't give a rat's a** if breweries go out of business).

Let 'em succeed. God bless'em. But because someone else did due diligence and now holds the upper hand is their own fault.

And like the article states, the name doesn't matter so much.. it's the quality. Hipsters tend to deal with the image first and with the product second. How else would you explain 150 dollar flannel shirts?

So if this business fails, I can almost guarantee they'll blame Sierra Nevada. Remeber - one of the most popular beers in the USA was letter away from sounding like sh*ts".
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:28 am
judahspechal from bedstuy says:
I love Sierra Nevada, f'up situation, but glad these guys moved on. Will look for ur brand.m all about the brew.
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:28 am
ty from pps says:
Pat from the Suburbs -- you're sort of an idiot. But that's OK, since you are so selfless and give so much of you time to charity.
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:39 am
diehipster from just smacked an Ethan says:
Mind blowing how these bearded twizzlers come to Brooklyn, immediately rent in the most expensive neighborhoods and play with beer in their apartments and walk around with organic vegetables at 2pm.

Today I'm very happy for the Sierra Nevada company. Oh and lastly - his name has to be Basil, doesn't it?
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:43 am
Pat I. from Brooklyn says:
Common sense- wrong. My wife used to be a sales rep for a micro-brewery in Philly (they had several brewpubs as well - from 1995-1997. We have about five brewpubs within a 30 minute radius of our home - Iron Hill, Triumph and John Harvard (sp). I've been to conventions and brewery events. Although I have nothing against Bud or Coors, I'm no stranger micro-brews.

The name doesn't matter. As our local Brewery rep (Flying Fish) said, all the good animal and mountain range names are taken.

I think the appearance of the bottle matters more so it doesn't get lost among the 100 beers in the cases of your local beer distributor.
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:45 am
ty from pps says:
Pat from the Suburbs --
I also find it amusing that everyone under the age of, say, 60 is a "hipster" and only concerned with "image." Do you know how much money companies like McDonald's and Walmart spend on image?! Hardly 'hipsters' -- it's the reality of the marketplace.

Sierra Nevada's claim against this local small business was EXACTLY that... image before substance.

It's amazing how you can twist EVERY story into an anti-hipster rant... especially when you've decided almost everyone is a hipster in your sad old book.
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:46 am
ty from pps says:
Wait, Pat... so you don't care if local micro-breweries go out of business, but then you tell us how your family was supported by this VERY INDUSTRY. You're such a dimwit.
Jan. 30, 2013, 10:48 am
Northside Ned from GPT says:
I see crazed, stay at home dad, Pat I is ranting again. What a blowhard. Get a job you freak.
Jan. 30, 2013, 11:39 am
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
so these Mr. Salty lookalikes brewed some beer and their kitchen and called it something but never actually sold a drop or ever had their brew leave their apartment. A large brewer, across the country, trademarks a name without even knowing these 2 toothpicks existed and they should jsut give up the name?'s their trademark. Thats why we have trademarks.
Oh, and Johnny "biceps like matchsticks", Sierra Nevada is making some of the best beer in the country right now. Besides winning awards beer connoisseur sites continually ate their stuff as outstanding. Try their Brown Ale or Torpedo IPA if you are old enough to buy beer, otherwise have one of the big kids buy it for you
Jan. 30, 2013, 11:42 am
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:

Boy you read like a shredded newspaper. My wife was laid off and went to work for a distributor. The skills are common to many industries. before kids, she worked as a sales rep for a shipping line. She was a sales rep. If she marketed herself as a microwbrew sales rep she'd still be out of work. or we'd have to move.

How many people do you think a microbrewery employs? My guess is about as many as Mast bros. and half of them are volunteers.

My question is - Sierra Nevada spends wads of cash in developing a brand, logo, labels and advertising. Basil, OTOH, probably had a friend come up with his logo and paid him with a case of beer. They don't want to see their money wasted. Basil can change the name of his company 50 times in the next year and it won't matter until the product is in the stores. They want to sell under the same name as a company who a) went through the expense of legally copyrighting their name b) is spending money in development and marketing. They're parasites.

Oh and I don't know where you got the idea that I feel anyone under 60 is a hipster. I saw a lot of over 60 types at OWS.

Jan. 30, 2013, 11:57 am
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Yes I am very generous with my time. jes' ask your mom.
Jan. 30, 2013, 11:59 am
Northside Ned from GPT says:
Pat I is in his 40 and unemployed. This is how he spends his time? Nothing funnier than a real life loser trying to impart wisdom on the internet.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:07 pm
JAZ from hurting Harrisons says:
Why should anyone feel sorry for Basil the gentrifier? He obviously has enough money to play around in North Brooklyn all day, even though his 'company' doesn't make any money. I'm sure the working class families that he and his artisanal buddies priced out don't have that same luxury where they can get together after kidult kickball practice and come up with ways to waste even more of their parents' money.

Hey Basil, here's one for you free of charge - listen up Casper: Finback's Rooftop Kale Pale Star Wars Action Figure with every six pack! LIKE YAH!!!
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:08 pm
that guy from da slope says:
Sierra Nevada is a horrible monster... They took the name "Ruthless Rye IPA" from Barrier Brewing a while back.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:12 pm
ty from pps says:
Hey Pat... I wonder how Sierra Nevada started?

Oh Look! (From Wikipedia)
"Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was founded in 1979, with founders Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi expanding their homebrewing hobby into a brewery in Chico, California. Along with the brewery's location, Grossman claims the company's name comes from his love of hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With $50,000 in loans from friends and family, Grossman & Camusi rented a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) warehouse and pieced together discarded dairy equipment and scrapyard metal to create their brewing equipment."

Hmmm... Does this sound familiar?! Jesus H. Christmas.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:15 pm
Northside Ned from GPT says:
haha, it's the Die Hipster dork squad wandering around the internet homeless and lost. What happened DH? Where you about to get outed?

"The truth is, I simply can’t take these people anymore – to the point that I don’t even want to write about them on a regular basis."

I mean you're not doing a very good job of not writing about 'these people' anymore.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:22 pm
Joe from Brooklyn says:
I know Basil and Kevin, and they are a) not uber-hipsters and b) working their asses off to make this happen. They had the narwhal name before SN did, they just f**ked up and forgot to legally protect it, which they acknowledge was a huge mistake. That's how it goes for small businesses many times, you learn by doing, or not doing. Frankly, I don't see why SN couldn't live and let live, Narwhal is just a name for one of their brews, not their brewery name, there have to be many similarities between brewery names and individual brews, among different companies.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:32 pm
BunnynSunny from The Hill says:
More earth. Less fruit.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:35 pm
Get Pints from Bushwick says:
Why does an article about a trademark struggle for a local start up brewery end up being the hunting ground for the Diehipster crowd? I don't remember you guys circle jerking hipster hate when news broke that 4 breweries have popped up in Queens over the last 2 months. Give it a rest and can one of you please start a new blog so you can leave those of us that have no interest in your anonymous rage alone. I'm interested in a healthy dialogue about local beer, not the meaningless rantings of a group of crybabies make assumptions that somebody must be a bearded scarecrow because their name is Basil.
Jan. 30, 2013, 12:47 pm
Transplant from Here to stay says:
Ha ha... The diehipster diaspora.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:02 pm
diehipster from Brooklyn's better half says:
Get Pints, you sound like you're about to cry.

"I'm interested in a healthy dialogue about local beer"

Are you serious Ethan?

Ned and Ty: you smarmy yups are in comment sections just as much as any hipster hater doing your thing. Why do you always point out how people are here ranting when you do the same exact sh*t? You are so hurt by my site and the truths "we" say that you need to come here and defend your try hard lifestyles and your bearded thick eyeframed pals. Enjoy Brooklyn during your stay!
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:13 pm
Pat I. from Pre-Ned Brooklyn says:
Awww Ned c'mon. I deserve the vacay...considering I haven't had one in 4 years. Besides - being a stay at home dad is better than being like you - a stay at home glory hole. Now go put your ball and gag back on, hit the record button and let the neighbor's great dane get behind you in a big way.

Jan. 30, 2013, 1:18 pm
Pat I. from Pre-Ned Brooklyn says:
Hey Joe - where you goin' with that mug in yo hand...

Joe - the golden rule is - the person with the gold makes the rules. Usually you have a product refined and ready to go before waffling and wringing your hands over a name. It's hard to start a business. But there are an infinite amount of names out there - not to mention you can make up your own.

Anyone who'smaking this much fuss over it doesn't really care about putting out a superior product.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:22 pm
Pat I. from Pre-Ned Brooklyn says:
Yo Ned...I see Tyson let you out of the men's room stall again. Now put on the lipstickget your finger back in his belt, loop.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:24 pm
Northside Ned from GPT says:
Pat I, 40 year old father. Jesus. I feel sorry for your kid.

So DH, you didn't answer the question. What happened? You're obviously not finished with writing about 'these people'.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:25 pm
pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Yup Ned..and proud of it. My kid hates hipsters too. ever since some d*ckhead Caleb on his team wore a fedora during swim practice.

Oh and if you were 8 and got run over by some tryhard riding a fixie while texting, wearing meggings and a peter pan hat and then gave you the finger after causing harm to a small child then maybe ..just maybe this would reinforce your hatred.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:33 pm
Northside Ned from GPT says:
You're 40 years old and live in the NJ suburbs. Find something else to do with your life!
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:36 pm
pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Ty, if ignorance is bliss then you must be a happy man.

My comments have nothing to do with starting a business in your apartment. Most businesses start out this way. It's entrepeneurship at it's finest. That's how my wife's first employer started out. It's how I started my business before selling it years ago.

My beef is with this big beer nonsense isthe attitude that it's someone else's fault that they had to relinquish ownership of their name.

there's no fault. SV made the investment. They did their homework. Go find another name.

None of this prevents them from continuing their business - they just need to pick another name.

Most sane, serious business owners don't give a cr8p about names until it's time to market their product. Use this experience and learn from it. next time get a lawyer and cover your a**. if they plan on expanding past their block instead of whining.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:40 pm
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
I'm running FEA models right now...obviously you must be doing something as well that allows yout to respond every six minutes.

Hopefully you'll run out of Kleenex soon.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:43 pm
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Oh and Ty - check out the brewery website. hey want you us to contact Sierra and tell them we support local business.

Like Sierra once was.

And Apple

And Microsoft

And American Apparel.

Rtaher than whine they should learn how htese guys operate. Rinse. Repeat.

If these guys do everything right (and I sincerely wish them luck) some other upstart will be whining about them and calling them "big Beer".

So i guess the question is: At exactly what size do hipsters think a business is too big to love anymore?

Amybe the fact taht ipster start complaining about you is a sign that you've finally made it.
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:51 pm
Joey Bots from B-Town says:
What about my amazing musical talent?
Jan. 30, 2013, 1:58 pm
ty from pps says:
"If these guys do everything right (and I sincerely wish them luck) " WHATEVER! You are so full of crap. You're a hateful douchebag.

And the fact that "My kid hates hipsters too" because a KID... a damn KID... wore a hat to swim practice?! This is what you consider positive parenting? Yes, you should definitely hate people because they don't dress like you or act like you or agree with everything you do... They are hipsters! Right? And since everyone that is under 60 and is not exactly like you is a "hipster," it's easy to hate everyone!

Oh, but you do some charity work, so obviously you're the douchebag suburban unemployed equivalent of Mother Teresa...
Jan. 30, 2013, 2:11 pm
The Real Hipster from Chicago says:
You guys in New York are hilarious!

Keep em' coming!
Jan. 30, 2013, 2:17 pm
Joe blow from anywhere says:
Jan. 30, 2013, 2:40 pm
Nate from Poughkeepsie says:
This has been enough to remind me why I f'n hated high school so much. Pat, you're a very large dick with an, obviously, very small penis. Ty, Pat's a dick, so stop arguing with him. It's not worth it - you will never get anywhere arguing with a mind like his.

With that said, —— Sierra Nevada.

Jan. 30, 2013, 2:49 pm
Northside Ned from GPT says: I%22 brooklyn hipster


Pat, you're a sad sad man
Jan. 30, 2013, 3:06 pm
diehipster from Brooklyn's better half says: ned%22&hl=en&safe=off&client=safari&tbo=d&ei=L5QJUf_mFMiP0QHXrICICw&start=10&sa=N&biw=320&bih=417

Ned , you're pretty busy too. What a nasally kale cracker eating smug punchable yup you are. Welcome to Brooklyn!
Jan. 30, 2013, 4:47 pm
Northside Ned from GPT says:
You idiot. 99% of those aren't me. Stupid townie. smh
Jan. 30, 2013, 6:42 pm
old time brooklyn from slop says:
if you do not have the copyright/trademark end of story
Jan. 30, 2013, 9:22 pm
Joe Blow from Anywhere says:
No way! You mean two dudes that have never sold a beer in their lives and never trademarked the name lost to a company that trademarked the name and put out a superior imperial stout!?

Oh, the humanity!
Jan. 31, 2013, 2:11 am
diehipster from Brooklyn's better half says:
Hey Ned,

I know you'll pretend not to have read this because it's yesterday's article and you are already waiting with your latte in today's Brooklyn Paper hipster argument article for the "diehipster crowd" to show up and to teach us that there is really no such thing as annoying hipsters and yupsters who invaded Brooklyn; however I know you are reading this and just want to make it clear that you were and still are a regular just like any "virgin who lives in their grandmas basement" like me and every diehipster commenter is. You read every post and commented on almost every post. You my nasally yup, are just as bad as any "Internet troll" you point your finger at. And townie? Hahahaha the use of that word only further proves you are some flyover state scarecrow.

Later ——.
Jan. 31, 2013, 6:50 am
David from Brooklyn says:
Just for the record, and not that it matters, but Basil is a clean cut Asian guy with normal glasses and clothes , not some hipster scarecrow in suspenders and handlebar mustache. I'd bet Pat & Co could stand next to him at a bar and never even peg him as a dreaded hipster. Although I'm guessing they're racist too so they still probably wouldn't share a drink with him (these "I'm defending my motherland from the invading hordes" types always have some weird crypto racism issues just below the surface...)
Jan. 31, 2013, 7:12 am
"Interloper" from Kent Ave says:
diehipster and SwampYankee - Stop trying to be message board tough guys. Everyone knows that the two of you enjoy a good cuddle together in front of a fire complimented by a nice bottle of Bartles and Jaymes. I hear that sometimes you guys like to get crazy and break out the Twisted Tea or the Mike's Hard Lemonade. Take it a down a notch party animal...

By the way your commentary here is stupid and irrelevant. This whole story has nothing to do with your hatred of hipsters. This is a sad story about a BS trademark claim from a company that pushed around a small business owner over something completely arbitrary and non-threatening to their brand. Granted they have legal grounds but this is just a stupid undertaking and the benefit to Sierra Nevada is miniscule at best.

The fact of the matter remains that this is no longer your neighborhood, whether you like it or not. Small business owners like Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford are going to set up shop and will continue to succeed, despite your wish for them to fail. Just look at Mast Brothers Chocolate...another small business that got its start by "flannel wearing hipsters" in Brooklyn. Now Starbucks is selling their chocolate bars in their stores and they're continuing to grow and get exposure on national television. This is just another example of how people like you are going to continue to be passed by the vibrant and thriving neighborhood this has become. It is a far better place than it ever was, especially when people like you were the majority.

*Drops mic...walks offstage*
Jan. 31, 2013, 1:15 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
well at least the hipsters ar white. lol
Jan. 31, 2013, 1:31 pm
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
I own, you rent. I have no mortgage payments. I own. Single family with a garage. It is my neighborhood. I was born here. I have family here for hundreds of years. My children were born here. I am from here. you are a visitor here. you will never, ever be from here
Jan. 31, 2013, 8:50 pm
basil from the dirt says:
A far better world thanks to the bourgeoisie! Saving the world one heirloom tomato at a time!
Feb. 1, 2013, 9:31 am
ty from pps says:
Swampy -- You forgot to mention that you will die here... soon?
Feb. 1, 2013, 10:33 am
"Interloper" from Kent Ave says:
Not that it matters Swampy...but I own too and have a garage just like lots of other newer folks to the neighborhood. You're not special.

You do have me on the mortgage dept but I'm thinking about getting some friends and colleagues of mine in banking and real estate together for a little venture...I'll charge up my cash flow and will spite you at the same time. We'll buy up all the property around your house. We'll turn everything into artisanal cocktail bars, vintage clothing shops, sidewalk brunch cafes and organic locally grown vegetable co-ops. You'll be up to your nose in skinny jeans, mustaches and hand rolled cigarettes before the summertime. You think zoning laws can protect you? HA! We'll see how long you last.

We're here to stay punk. You can't stop progress no matter how hard you try.
Feb. 1, 2013, 3:33 pm
joe blow from anywhere says:
SNBCo was obligated to defend its trademark. If it hadn't, it would have lost the trademark, so the effect is not "miniscule".

Get it right.
Feb. 1, 2013, 5:15 pm
Get Pints from Bushwick says:
SwampYankee has a garage!?! Do you think he'll let me set up an all-grain brewing operation since all I have is a kitchen, so am left brewing extract. What do you think, Swampee? I'll let you help.
Feb. 1, 2013, 7:10 pm
javathyme from the Heights says:
get back to making your brew. quality is the word. the rest is child's play. success on your journey. you learned a valuable lesson. Finback Brewery is a cool name. Salud!
Feb. 11, 2013, 10:53 am
ProspectParkJoe from Kensington says:
Hey JAZ from hurting Harrisons...I ahem, love how you say...
"Why should anyone feel sorry for Basil the gentrifier? He obviously has enough money to play around in North Brooklyn all day, even though his 'company' doesn't make any money. I'm sure the working class families that he and his artisanal buddies priced out don't have that same luxury where they can get together after kidult kickball practice and come up with ways to waste even more of their parents' money." Really? Fool Tool, you don't even know him, and as for his parent's money... please, he makes his own. He goes to work each day and puts his own Ca$h into his startup. Wasting his money? I'd say not, seems like he's trying to follow his passion in life.
April 13, 2013, 9:47 am

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