Buffalo Brewery Brushes off Corporate Bully - Wyoming Magazine


Buffalo Brewery Brushes off Corporate Bully


UPDATE: MISHAP! Brewery Co. Kickstarter Page (Formerly Clear Creek Brewery)

A bully is like sandpaper – the more it scratches you, the smoother and more rounded you become, while the sandpaper slowly becomes rendered completely useless. – said by no one in particular.

We all have the memory of that time in our youth where we came up against that one individual or group of bullies who seemed hell bent on making life miserable. There was nothing you could reasonably do to shake them or fight back, you just let them have their way, hoping they would quickly move on. It was emotionally draining and unending, but in time, things slowly improved for the better. Through perseverance, some encouragement and love from friends and family, you used the experience to thrive in the future. Unfortunately, as we grow, those same bullies take their game into adulthood, and often to a new playground with more complicated rules – the boardroom.

There’s a tactic used by some larger companies with big pockets called “Trademark Bullying,” through which these larger entities legally harass smaller ones for purported violations of trademark law, and with a vision to extract hard earned dollars. Such action is not rare in America, and one such incident recently took place in our own back yard. In April, Buffalo, Wyoming’s Clear Creek Brewing Company owners Robert and Mary McCorkle and Chris and Michelle Jones received a cease and desist letter from Hood River Distillers (Pendleton Whiskey). In their claim, Clear Creek Brewing was said to be using a form of the name the distiller owned, Clear Creek Distillery, even though the name was purchased by Hood River in 2014, well after the formation of Wyoming’s Clear Creek Brewing Company in 2012.

On that day, the McCorkles and Joneses were essentially given an ultimatum to discontinue operation under the Clear Creek name or sign a licensing contract, forcing the extraction of revenue from the small town brewer for use of the name.

Naturally, this did not sit well with the brewery owners. Not only did their business sit just blocks away from the local Clear Creek, but their product is only distributed in small, well-done batches in and around Buffalo’s Johnson County, and enjoyed by tourists and local folks who call Wyoming home. For them, at only 150 barrels per year, the brewery has been a labor of love and a craft they continue their work to perfect.

The owners put their savings into renovating a historic local building in downtown Buffalo to launch the brewery. They built the brand from the ground up, tying everything in with the local Creek. A cursory internet search reveals multiple results for businesses in and around Buffalo with “Clear Creek” in the title, and as locals will confirm, Clear Creek is something that everyone in the small community can identify with.

The passion and craftsmanship of a persevering small business didn’t seem to deter Hood River in their pursuit to create misery. They emoted that their action was typical in how the corporate big boys play the game, taking whatever action necessary to create as much turmoil as possible, without regard for the people they would hurt along the way – typical bully behavior. Knowing that their backs were against the wall, Clear Creek Brewery’s owners were forced to choose one of three paths: Fight for years and pay huge legal fees without a guaranteed outcome, pay long term and debilitating licensing fees, or undertake an extensive and expensive rebranding campaign. The owners of Clear Creek Brewing Company were told by attorneys that they had a fighting chance in a court of law, but unfortunately (and understandably) they did not have the time or capital to fight a multi-million-dollar company. Taking the lesser of three crippling paths, the brewery owners decided to rebrand, but had to sign the licensing agreement until the rebranding was officially in place.

In a recent interview, Wyoming Magazine spent extensive time with the owners where they shared their stories of early garage grown mishaps, backyard BBQ tasting sessions, and an overwhelming community support for their craft. It was very apparent in our discussions that the community of Buffalo, WY, the backdrop for the hit TV series Longmire, had embraced the craft brewers and their “hallway” brewery (named for the very narrow space where they do business). While they were not willing to give any direct quotes about the trademark dispute, they each offered their very humble thanks to a community which has offered significant support.

Rob McCorkle ended our meeting and tour with teary eyed appreciation for their supporters, “We have been overwhelmed by the kind words and actions of friends and complete strangers. We know that this situation is only going to make us stronger as a business and as a community, and we can’t thank folks enough for their support. We have decided that the best course of action is for us to remain true to our values and to move forward. We will choose the lesser of three evils and begin a total rebrand for the brewery. We know it will not be a simple undertaking, but we know that we will get through this, and we will come away from this situation as a much stronger business and as a much tighter community.”

In late October, Clear Creek Brewing Company will be shedding their contentious name for a new direction. While it creates a very unique opportunity, a complete rebrand is a laborious and expensive process, but the owners remain optimistic. They firmly believe that they are more than their name, and their reputation for quality craft beer will reflect this in the months to come.

The brewery has planned an event on the evening of Saturday, October 29th. The event will be the official “celebration of life” for their old name and will also celebrate their 4th anniversary of doing business in historic downtown Buffalo, Wyoming. Then, one week later, the brewery will celebrate once again on the evening of November 5th as they launch their new name and all of the pieces that go along with it. From pints and growlers with the new logo, to signs, website and apparel, the group is working hard to move in a new direction and distance themselves from a boardroom bully – but they are not doing it alone. They are working with several Wyoming based businesses who have offered their support during this transition so they can continue to focus on what they do best – making really damn good craft beer.

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1 Comment

  1. Ben Kohrs

    October 20, 2016 at 6:38 am

    It is good to see that the resilience of Wyoming bred folks bends but doesn’t break. I am pleased that these owners are able to continue. I wish them the very best.

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