Seven Stills, a San Francisco-based brewery, says that it rarely makes the same beer twice. But, thanks to some borrowed graphics on its can, it has been warned not to make its Neapolitan milkshake stout even once—at least not with that particular name or with those logos.
In mid-July, Seven Stills posted a picture of the can for its “In-N-Stout” beer and the red-and-yellow, palm tree-heavy design on the can would’ve been familiar to anyone who’s ever ordered a Double-Double. It also looked familiar to the legal department at In-N-Out Burger, which wasted zero time typing a cease-and-desist letter and sending it to the brewery.
“This was the fastest we’d ever got a cease and desist from somebody,” Seven Stills co-owner Tim Obert told KPIX. “They sent us that C&D basically the next day.” The swiftness of In-N-Out’s general counsel is impressive… but so is its willingness to go heavy on the beer puns. Instead of sending the written equivalent of a fist pounding against a desk, the attorneys wrote four paragraphs that were filled with dad jokes.
“Please understand that use of our [trademarks] by third parties ales us to the extent that this could cause confusion in the marketplace or prevent us from protecting our marks in the future,” the legal department wrote. “We hope you appreciate, however, that we are attempting to clearly distill our rights by crafting an amicable approach with you, rather than barrel through this [...] Please contact us as soon as possible, so this does not continue to ferment.”
Every once in a while, attorneys seem to realize that real people are on the receiving end of those cease-and-desist letters—and sometimes, they can even be downright decent about the process. Several years ago, author Patrick Wensink used the Jack Daniel’s label for inspiration when designing the cover of his novel, Broken Piano for President. He quickly received a surprisingly pleasant letter from the Tennessee whiskey maker’s California-based attorney.
“We are certainly flattered by your affection for the brand, but while we can appreciate the pop culture appeal of Jack Daniel's, we also have to be diligent to ensure that the Jack Daniel's trademarks are used correctly,” it started, before taking a turn for the ‘Wait, really?’
“In order to resolve this matter, because you are both a Louisville ‘neighbor’ and a fan of the brand, we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is re-printed,” senior attorney Christy Susman wrote. “If you would be willing to change the design sooner than that (including on the digital version), we would be willing to contribute a reasonable amount towards the cost of doing so. By taking this step, you will help us to ensure that the Jack Daniel's brand will mean as much to future generations as it does today.”
Wensink declined the offer—and also declined to change the cover of his book. But Seven Stills told SFGate that the company would honor the burger chain’s request, and would release the beer later this week, albeit without that In-N-Homage. In a followup post on Instagram, Seven Stills said that it would “not release some cheap copyright knockoff can you think you saw once,” but it did say that the first 100 people who bought a can of the 13 percent ABV barrel-aged Neapolitan milkshake stout would get a free In-N-Out burger.
We see what you did there.