Craft Beers Brewed by African Americans Gaining Popularity and Competition

SUNSHINE STEVEN Celeste Beatty, of Harlem Brewing Company says Julian Riley of Harlem Brewhouse and Harlem Blue has caused quite a brew-haha in the marketplace.

by J. Ransom

A beer fight is brewing in Harlem.

Longtime Harlem brewmaster Celeste Beatty, head honcho of the 13-year-old Harlem Brewing Company, says a startup with a similar name is causing quite a brew-haha on social media and among distributors and customers.

What’s in a name?

Everything when it comes to Harlem’s beer legacy. Beatty’s Harlem Brewing Company makes Harlem Brew. Harlem Brew House will soon roll out Harlem Blue.

Confused? Beatty says that’s how her rival Julian Riley wants it.

“I’m sorry, but it’s too much like our brewing company,” she said.

The similarity has caused mass confusion in the marketplace, said Beatty, who said a distributor told her he assumed the two brands were related.

“Over and over again, people say (to me), ‘I just joined your Twitter for Harlem Blue,’ ” said Beatty. “He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Riley argues that the public will be able to differentiate between the cures for what ales them.

“There’s no confusion in the marketplace,” he said, noting Beatty’s flagship beer is Sugar Hill Ale. “Harlem is big enough as a brand or name to have more than one brand. She thinks she owns ‘Harlem’ for beer. I don’t think so.”

Experts say neither company can own the word “Harlem,” but noted the similar names could cause confusion in the marketplace and could prompt federal trademark officials to deny a second manufacturer the right to use the name.

“Harlem Blue could be confusing to the public,” said trademark lawyer Joel Hecker. “The Trademark Office looks to the sounds of a mark as well as the appearance.”

The bad blood dates back to earlier this year. Beatty applied for a trademark for her Harlem Brewing Company, but Riley filed a challenge, arguing that he should also be able to use the term “Harlem” on his products — not that they exist yet.

“Our brand is natural, authentic and distinctive,” Riley said. “People will see that soon.”

It’s not the first time Riley, a lawyer, is under fire in a legal arena.

In 2012, a state disciplinary panel suspended him for taking money from a fund that assists low-income New Yorkers in civil matters, including $17,000 for personal use.

“The suspension was warranted,” he said. “I was sloppy.”

Beatty asked Riley to cease and desist, but he refused to tap out. As such, she has opposed his application to trademark Harlem Blue.

“Craft beer isn’t coming up with a cute little name, packaging and then leveraging other people’s stuff. That’s not creative,” said Beatty. “He could have been more original.”

The fight may be be a result of a bitter aftertaste following Riley’s attempt to buy a chunk of the Harlem Brewing Company in 2011.

After she refused Riley’s offer, he started his own company, Harlem Brew House — and claims his beer will hit the market before December.

Neither brewery, by the way, currently produces any suds in Harlem.

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