Understanding The Legal Process

Four Steps To Take If You Want To Market Your Microbrew

by Eli Gregory

Did you get caught up in the micro-brewing beer craze that began to heavily spread across the country since 2005? Maybe you came up with a unique recipe all your own or maybe you worked from one that had been handed down through several generations of family members. Either way, if you have a product that you're proud of, it may be time to turn that hobby into a commercial business venture.

Once you're ready, these are some of the steps you'll need to take:

1.) Apply to become a brewing business.

You start the paperwork for your business through the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). You can even register online. It sound fairly simple until you realize that you need the following information to even start:

  • the name of the primary business contact 
  • your business structure (sole proprietor, LLC, etc.)
  • the size and location of your brewery 
  • the nature of your brewing activities (research, on-site sales, off-site sales, etc.) 
  • your trade name 
  • your labeling 
  • any proposed advertising 
  • proof of the water quality that you're using in your brew

You can expect the process of getting through the application and approval to take several months to complete. TTB will want to look at the brewery on-site, interview key members of the organization, run background checks on the owners and any financiers, and approve your recipes.

2.) Trademark your brewing company's name and the names of your individual beers.

You can submit trademark applications for the brewery and beers up to 36 months before the launch of the beer itself. With the rise of so many microbrews, successful branding relies on finding an interesting and catchy trademark.

3.) Get a non-compete agreement from key employees (like your master brewer). 

The odds are that you aren't doing all the work yourself. If you have others working for you, you want to protect your business interests should something happen down the line and your master brewer or others who know your trade secrets decide to move on. Non-compete agreements can be tricky to enforce. They generally have to be limited in scope and include some sort of reciprocal benefit for the employee (such as new health benefits or a significant raise) other than just "continued employment." You absolutely want to consult with an attorney who specializes in commercial litigation and business to make sure that any non-compete agreements you use are enforceable in order to protect the future of your brand.

4.) Apply for all necessary state and local licenses.

You'll need at least a wholesaler's license, plus any specific licenses to sell your beer to bars, clubs, or directly to customers yourself. Each state has its own rules regarding beer licenses and you may need permission from local municipalities as well as the state.

As you get into the microbrewery business, work with a commercial law firm like D.B. Clark Law Office to make sure you've got all your i's dotted and t's crossed.