The blog Wynning History posted in February about the tortuous history of D.G. Yuengling Jr.’s James River Steam Brewery in a piece that weaves the history of an ill-fated brewery founded in the late 1860s which was capable of production in excess of 400 barrels per day by the 1870s before its demise in the 1880s.
The article provides some information on the origin of the brewery from historian Mike Gorman’s piece for All About Beer magazine from 2016 and also cites to an 1896 article from the Richmond Dispatch shedding some light on the name:
First we have the [James] river, containing the best beer-water in the country, then have the brewery with its malt and its “’ops,” and everything else necessary in the premises. The tubs and machinery are all ready for a brewing. The malt is taken and ground in a mill, which is on the first floor, the power being furnished by a forty horse power steam engine, which is, next to the “boss,” the prime mover in the establishment. The refuse of the malt is shoveled [sic] aside, and makes excellent cow-feed, and is very cheap, being sold at twenty cents a bushel, and it requires but a slight admixture of corn-meal to make it most palatable and nutritious. The malt proper is then conveyed up on the fourth floor where the mesh-tubs are. On the top floor are two immense cisterns containing 14,000 gallons of water, which is forced up by means of steam. This constitutes the reservoir for supplying the brewery.
As history makes for good marketing, it’s no surprise that Yuengling & Son, Inc., held a trademark for “James River Steam Brewery” for beer up until its cancellation in 2008. Nor is it astonishing to find that Yuengling recently filed for a new mark for “James River Steam Brewery”
for beer given that it has held the mark for t-shirts and mugs and toys and postcards and a whole host of items since 2007. Cans from the 1995 runs of a Yuengling beer bearing the name are sold by collectors.
But, with any new filing, comes a new opportunity and Anchor Brewing has seized on the chance to keep STEAM for itself, filing filing an opposition to Yuengling’s recent attempt to register the James River Steam Brewery mark in beer – arguing that the similarity of the marks it holds for “STEAM” and “STEAM BEER” are confusingly similar to the JAMES RIVER STEAM BREWERY mark on account of the use of the element – STEAM.
Certainly, a use or even a mark along the lines of “made by the descendants of the founders of the James River Steam Brewery” would put this into the same territory the Sixth Circuit dealt with in the Old Taylor distillery case. This case will likely involve many of the same arguments and precedents cited in that opinion given the historic nature and Yuengling’s documented prior use – even up to the 1990’s of the name. We’ve written before about Anchor’s defense of the Steam name.
But it doesn’t appear that Anchor has faced such a challenge with a documented prior use by a well funded opponent who may want to take exception to the origins of the “steam” designation for California Common given that it likely describes some process, function, method, or component of brewing and likely shouldn’t be protected in a fashion that might be used to keep others from saying things like “brewed with steam” or “steam powered brewery” or “steamed” to describe how their beer was made.