Florida Keys Brewing Company fans, don’t fret. You can still order the local brewer’s popular Hogfish Amber. But because of threatened legal action by a well-known Delaware brewer, ask for a Spearfish Amber instead.
Local owners Craig and Cheryl McBay said they received an email late last year from the owners of Dogfish Head Brewery that threatened legal action if the name of the Keys Brewing beer wasn’t changed.
Craig McBay said the Dogfish Head Brewery representative was concerned consumers “would not be able to differentiate when ordering a ‘Hogfish’ or a ‘Dogfish’ at one of any fine Keys establishments.”
A dogfish is a type of small shark. A hogfish is a wrasse and a popular food fish, especially in South Florida and the Florida Keys. A Dogfish Head Brewery spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
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The decision to give in to the Milton, Del., brewery’s demand was made this week after months of back-and-forth with Dogfish, McBay said.
Dogfish representatives apparently became increasingly concerned in recent weeks because Florida Keys Brewing Company was in the final stages of trademarking “Hogfish Amber.”
“They said: Either tell us you’re going to drop this or we’re going to take you to court,” McBay said. “Could we win? Probably. Could we afford to fight it? Probably not.”
Changing the name of one of Florida Keys Brewing Company’s most popular products was not a decision made lightly.
“Obviously from a business standpoint, it was difficult,” McBay said. “It’s doing very well for us, and we love the name.”
But McBay also is disappointed he’s being forced to rebrand at the hands of a company he — and many independent brewers — considers a hero in the beer industry. Dogfish Head, started in 1995 by Sam and Maria Calagione in Rehoboth Beach, Del., is one of the most successful independent brewers in the industry, and its rise to the top was rapid.
Although still independently owned, it employs 250 people, offers almost two dozen types of beer, as well as spirits, and the company operates restaurants and an inn. The company still portrays itself to being the David to the corporate brewers’ Goliath, as is demonstrated in the 2009 documentary, “Beer Wars.”
“It’s disappointing given what they’ve done for the industry,” McBay said. “But you get big enough, and this is what you start doing.”
That said, on an intellectual level, he doesn’t accept Dogfish’s argument, and he didn’t think the company was serious at first.
“Since the name ‘Dogfish’ and ‘Hogfish’ are two totally different types of fish and proper nouns, Florida Keys Brewing Company thought this was a joke,” he wrote on the company’s Facebook page this week.
The McBays started Florida Keys Brewing Company in February 2015. The company’s beer is made in a brewery at 200 Morada Way in Islamorada’s arts district.
“Every drop is brewed here,” McBay said.
He considers the name change a setback, but McBay said he’s confident customers will get used to asking for a Spearfish Amber.
“This beer and other styles of beer from Florida Keys Brewing Company can be ordered in over 60 restaurants and bars throughout Monroe County,” he said. “Please support the little guy when choosing your brew in the Keys.”