Beerlines

Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

16 April

Who owns CUB’s heritage beer brands?

For CUB I think it’s now a case of too many beer brands not enough breweries as its heritage beer brands go to court.

Since the early 1900s Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), now owned by SAB-Miller, has taken over dozens of Australian breweries. This includes the original five Melbourne brewing firms which amalgamated to form CUB in the first place.

One of many famous heritage brands taken over by CUB

One of many famous heritage brands taken over by CUB

There must be hundreds of brands. From well known capital city brands to small regional brews; how is CUB going to keep them all legally under its wing given the requirements to release them to the public regularly? That’s a big task even for a big brewer.

So what’s happening at the bar?

Overnight news, here in The Age, sees local craft brewer, Thunder Road Brewery (TRB), seriously elevate its pitch to secure heritage brands from CUB. Beerlines has covered this before i.e. How to make Carlton bitter.

They’re off to court!

If it weren’t for the fact that this is now actually going to court I would say it was just more drum beating by TRB to get free publicity at the big guy’s expense. Their recent release of Terry’s Ale, based on an early Carlton Brewery beer recipe is a fine example of this.

Is there a serious case?
I’m no lawyer; here comes the ‘but.’ But as I understand it, unless CUB actively keeps those brands alive and seen to be available commercially – if only for limited release every three or so years – then CUB’s ‘ownership’ is exposed. Then such claims as Thunder Road is making have some chance I believe.

And I’m not so sure CUB will have done that. As I said, CUB must ‘own’ hundreds of heritage brands given its history of takeovers. CUB would need to re-release a heritage brand every few months to maintain its claim of ownership across all of them.

See you in court
As Thunder Road is seeing CUB in court, they obviously believe they have a case. They will need good counsel; CUB has a reputation as seriously aggressive litigators when it comes to defending its brands.

Thunder Road’s cuckoo approach to brands
Finally, from a brand-building perspective I question where Thunder Road is going. If it wins the right to take-over some CUB heritage brands then what? How much of TRB’s long term brand and marketing plan relies on the heritage of breweries long closed? What of Brunswick Bitter and its own brands? What of the central Thunder Road brand itself?

So will CUB retain ownership? The answer has the makings of a mini-series based in Melbourne. All good for bringing beer into the news that’s for sure. And for that – Cheers!