Anyone remember right-wing activist and anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who expended so much energy to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment with her 1970s-era Stop ERA movement? She liked to open her speeches with provocative statements such as, “I’d like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight.”
I was reminded of her recently when Tim Graul stopped by the office with a bomber bottle of bourbon barrel-aged Schlafly Imperial Stout from The Saint Louis Brewery of St. Louis, Missouri.
Tim said it’s a phenomenal stout, and that should be all I need to know. But my mind doesn’t work that way.
I recalled that Mrs. Schlafly was from St. Louis. It didn’t seem very likely that she had turned from conservative causes to brewing beer, but I had to know because did I really want something associated with her passing my lips?
Well, it turns out the 91-year-old Phyllis Schlafly is still active. She’s been stumping in St. Louis and online for Donald Trump, who she says smells like Ronald Reagan (does that mean Trump smells dead?). And, thankfully, she is not brewing beer.
She did, however, try to stop her nephew Tom Schlafly from using his last name (and hers) for the craft beers produced by his brewery. In 2012 – 21 years after the brewery opened – she filed a notice of opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to an application from the brewery to trademark Schlafly as its brand name.
“In connection with its usage as a surname, it has the connotation of conservative values, which to millions of Americans (such as Baptists and Mormons) means abstinence from alcohol,” Mrs. Schlafly stated in her response to the trademark office. “An average consumer in Saint Louis and elsewhere would think ‘Schlafly’ is a surname associated with me, and thus the registration of this name as a trademark by Applicant should be denied.”
Her son, Bruce, a St. Louis doctor, also filed a notice in opposition to the application. The two were consolidated into a single opposition to the applicant by the trademark office. The applicants noted that they had been using the Schlafly name since founding the brewery in 1991.
In 2014 the trademark office refused to offer a judgment on the dispute, so the case will eventually go to trial. So far there have been 53 separate filings in the case, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, the most recent one dated Feb. 29, 2016, asking for a time extension for the brewery to file a brief.
There have been plenty of bad trademark rulings in the past. Here’s a particularly bad one that comes to mind – California craft brewer The Bruery attempted to trademark its delicious holiday seasonal called 5 Golden Rings (golden rings of pineapple is the literal reference in this delicious Belgian golden ale). Someone without a sense of humor and imagination at the trademark office thought the name was too close to the already trademarked Gold Ring wine from the Gold Ring Vineyard, so the application was denied.
Common sense tells you that Phyllis Schlafly will be long forgotten while the St. Louis Brewery continues to make excellent Schlafly beer, but common sense does not appear to matter in trademark cases.
The bottle Tim gave me was a 2015 vintage of this big 10.2 percent imperial stout. It’s pours a deep mahogany with a rich tawny head. The nose is full of oaky complication. Beer is not the first thing that comes to mind when you smell it – perhaps life and death itself. The aroma is something more primal and earthy, which carries into the taste.
The oaky barrel, the boozy bourbon and the dark malts gang up on the taste buds in a singleminded assault. It’s as if all those things, along with all the exotic dark fruits you can imagine, had been compressed into a tight ball that unfolds just for you when you release it into your mouth with a liquid cascade of nighttime flavors. Intense is the correct word for this beer.
I love the way things turn out. This began with Phyllis Schlafly on my mind, and it ends with Schlafly beer on my tongue.