It took one week for this story to hit the mainstream after being broken by the industry newsletter Craft Business Daily on July 5. By Tuesday the 11th, the Chicago Tribune had run with the CBD's report that Anheuser-Busch InBev had filed application for trademarks on 15 U.S. city Area codes. No, this isn't like the old Batman story where the Penguin gets a copyright on the alphabet. Rather, the trademarks apply only to use of the area codes as brands of alcoholic beverages.
The obvious conclusion to draw from this would be that A-B/I might plan to introduce beers with those names in those areas,possibly as a national rollout for Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat. Since it was introduced in 2004, the mild American style wheat beer has become Goose Island's biggest-selling brand. This would follow one of the scenarios I had hoped for when A-B/I acquired Goose Island, aka Fulton Street Brewing, earlier this year. Production of the more popular Goose brands like 312 or Summertime would be off-loaded to outside Anheuser-Busch breweries, opening the Fulton St. brewery to return some Goose Island brands that got squeezed out due to lack of capacity; maybe their Christmas beer, Hex Nut Brown Ale or Oatmeal Stout.
But I can also see another possibility here: While there may be a 314 or 713 Urban Wheat some time in the future, the trademark filings may simply be a "pre-emptive strike" to keep other beer makers from poaching on the idea. Since 312 first came out, Chicago area brewpubs have paid tribute with "suburban" wheat beers named 708 (Rock Bottom Orland Park), 630 (RB Lombard-Yorktown) and 847 (Mickey Finn's). Most of these were one-off beers, so I really doubt the heavy hand of a multi-national behemoth will come down on some suburban brewpub. But some hometown packaging brewer might have tried to steal a march on Goose Island by coming out with their own area-coded beer. Or perhaps someone in A-B/I's legal department decided that the best way to protect the original 312 trademark for beer is to declare "intent-to-use" on other possible area codes. Numbers are such tricky things when it comes to commercial use. Aaron Spelling couldn't possibly have trademarked all the possible uses of 90210.
Meantime, here are the area codes for which Anheuser-Busch InBev has sought trademark protection:
202 (Washington DC)
314 (St. Louis)
415 (San Francisco)
619 (San Diego)
702 (Las Vegas)
704 (Charlotte NC)
Some commentators have noted that these filings cover certain areas known as craft beer oases, like San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, and Cleveland. Of course A-B/I would cover its ostensible home territory of St. Louis. I find more interesting the omission of some larger area codes like 213 (Los Angeles) or 313 (Detroit). It's possible Brooklyn Brewing has a claim on both Brooklyn (718) and Manhattan (212). But could Miller have already roped in 414 (Milwaukee) as the reason for A-B/I to make this move? And does anyone remember the urban legend about Big Tobacco taking out trademarks for "Acapulco Gold" and "Maui Wowie" in case "the other Bud" is ever legalized?