Whitbread hit by 1m legal claim

Whitbread is being sued by a specialist beer importer for 1m in a row over the trademark and distribution rights for its recently launched Boston Beer from Samuel Adams.

Premier Worldwide Beers claims the national brewer infringed its existing contracts with the Samuel Adams microbrewery in Massachusetts, US.

Premier says it had the sole importing and distribution rights to a bottled beer called Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and the exclusive rights to use the Samuel Adams brand and logo until December 1996.

But Whitbread began brewing a lager-ale hybrid at its Castle Eden brewery in March last year, called Boston Beer (MW May 17 1996), which it sold on draught and then in widget cans.

Premier claims the Boston Beer has the same distinctive “hoppy” flavour as its lager.

Now Croydon-based Premier is suing Whitbread and the Samuel Adams brewery, with a hearing in the High Court set for March 1998.

According to marketing director Michael Cook, the company is claiming “in the region of 1m” damages, for loss of profits and profits made by the other parties following the alleged breach of contract.

Cook says Premier hoped to retain the rights to Boston Lager for about five years, to give it time to recoup money invested in the first year of distribution.

A Whitbread spokeswoman refuses to comment on the case. She says the brand – which is already available in Thresher and Safeway – will be launched nationally in the take-home trade next week.

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