What’s in a name? Well, a lot if you ask Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch, who announced this week that his company is filing a lawsuit against powerhouse MillerCoors for the alleged use of the "Stone" name in its branding techniques.
The Escondido-based company released a video on YouTube Monday – fronted by Koch – detailing why Stone is suing the "big beer" giant.
The point of contention: MillerCoors, according to Stone Brewing, is allegedly trying to rebrand its "Keystone Light" beer simply as "Stone Light."
On the cans, the word "Stone" appears in large, silver-colored letters across the can's length, flanked by the words "Key" and "Light."
According to Stone Brewing, the "bold" and "aggressive" marketing approach encroaches on the Stone brand.
"[They’re trying to] create confusion in the marketplace with their Keystone brand," Koch said in his video.
"Keystone’s rebranding is no accident," said Dominic Engels, Stone Brewing CEO, in a press release. "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."
In Koch’s video, the Stone co-founder talked about how his company has spent years developing its unique brand and "good name."
"Hey, in the world of beer, the name Stone is ours," he said. "This heritage that we have spent so many years to build is being threatened. It’s being threatened right out in the open."
"We will not stand for this kind of overtly and aggressively deceptive advertising. Frankly, MillerCoors should be ashamed," Engels added in a press release.
The complaint filed by Stone Brewing alleges unfair competition and trademark infringement by MillerCoors. The company is being represented by BraunHagey & Borden LLP.
"So, our message to you, MillerCoors, is very simple," Koch explained in his video. "You can end all this right here and now by one simple move that re-enforces your brand that you built. Put the 'Key' back in 'Keystone.' That’s it. Stop using Stone as a standalone word because when it comes as a standalone word in the world of beer, it’s ours."
NBC 7 reached out to MillerCoors Tuesday for comment on the lawsuit. A media spokesperson called Stone’s suit nothing more than a "publicity stunt."
In Koch’s video, he specifically said Stone didn’t release the video for publicity, but rather to inform consumers.
The company said its first time finding out about the lawsuit was via Stone’s press release and "scripted video." In response, MillerCoors released this statement:
"This lawsuit is a clever publicity stunt with a multi-camera, tightly-scripted video featuring Stone’s founder Greg Koch. 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 and we will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process."
MillerCoors said Koch has always been vocal about his disdain for big beer and said this “rhetoric is common” for the Stone leader.
Stone’s press release acknowledged this and made no apologies about it.
"Never one to miss an opportunity to poke fun at Big Beer and its consumers, Koch added with a laugh, 'We all know Keystone is specifically designed to be as inexpensive, flavorless and watery as possible. We can’t have potential Stone drinkers thinking we make a *shudder* light beer. Or for our fans to think we sold out,'" the release stated.
Stone Brewing Co. was founded by Koch and Steve Wagner in San Diego in 1996. Today, Stone runs its flagship Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, as well as a World Bistro & Gardens in San Diego’s Liberty Station.
The company also has tasting rooms or outposts in Oceanside, Little Italy, downtown San Diego, the San Diego International Airport and Pasadena, California, and a tasting room planned for Napa, California, set to open later this year. Stone also has facilities in Berlin, Germany, and Richmond, Virginia.
According to a list released in March 2017 by the Colorado-based Brewers Association, Stone Brewing Co. is ranked No. 17 among the 50 overall largest production breweries in the United States. San Diego's Ballast Point was No. 13 and Green Flash Brewing Co. was named No. 47.
The Stone Brewing website said the company is one of the largest craft breweries in the U.S., employing more than 1,100 men and women.