Blue Moon, a Belgian-style wheat ale brewed by MillerCoors, is noted by market researchers as the most successful “craft” beer in the country. Often served in a tall glass that bows at the top, allowing for a thick, frothy head garnished with a wedge of orange, the beer is eye-catching, aromatic, and ubiquitous. It’s brewed with orange peel and coriander, creating those overpowering witbier characteristics you either love or hate. In the bottle, it’s also labeled with a blue moon on it. Unmistakable, right?
Not exactly. If you try to order a Blue Moon in Canada, you might get some weird looks. Although the same beer is sold in Canada, it doesn’t have the same name. American Blue Moon is called Belgian Moon north of the border.
The reasons for this are complicated and require a bit of understanding about Blue Moon’s similarly complicated history. Since its inception in 1995, Blue Moon has gotten flack for describing itself as “Belgian,” which it isn’t. It’s Belgian-style, sure, but it is American. It’s also come under fire for positioning itself as a small or independent brewing company. It is and always has been brewed by Coors, now MillerCoors, now a division of the multinational Molson Coors. The beer originally launched as Bellyslide Belgian White at the SandLot Brewery, a Coors brewery on Coors Field in Denver.
In Blue Moon’s second decade, somewhere between Miller suing Molson and Molson merging with MillerCoors, the beer started to be sold in both Canada and the United States. When it launched in Canada, it did so under the name Belgian Moon. The origin stories posted on both websites are identical, as are the beers’ ingredients and their visual brandings save for that one word. Press releases celebrating the Canadian launch circa 2015 did not address the name change.
So. What happened?
A spokesperson for MillerCoors told us this: “Blue Moon Belgian White is called Belgian Moon in Canada in order to differentiate ourselves from Labatt Blue beer, a lager-style brew that is widely known in the region. When introducing our Belgian-style brew in Canada we wanted to ensure that drinkers were aware that Belgian Moon (Blue Moon) is a crafted Belgian White-style beer.”
We like to think Canadian consumers are smarter than that, so we dug a bit deeper into Blue Moon’s history and found another answer. According to Jordan St. John, a Canadian beer writer, beer judge, and Cicerone, it all stemmed from negligence on Coors’ part to register the Blue Moon trademark. Although Blue Moon the beer was created in 1995, he writes, Blue Moon the brand wasn’t trademarked until 2006 – and not by Molson Coors.
“According to records over at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO, hereafter), no one registered Blue Moon until 2006,” St. John writes, “Unfortunately for Blue Moon, it wasn’t Molson Coors. Molson and Coors only entered into partnership in 2005 and apparently it didn’t occur to them at that time to register their trademarks in both countries. This is incredibly poor oversight.”
Instead, a company called 2008474 Ontario registered the Blue Moon trademark. (And Blue Moon isn’t the only American beer name it snagged — the Ontario-based company, also known as Amsterdam Brewing Company, also registered “Firestone” and “Fat Tire” in Canada.)
In 2011, St. John continues, MillerCoors finally got around to registering the Blue Moon trademark in Canada. By 2013, MillerCoors had managed to secure the registration of the trademark from 2008474 Ontario. Guess who’s listed as the opponent in that case? Labatt Brewing Company.
If the Blue Moon trademark was secured by MillerCoors in Canada in 2013, then by 2015 it should have been able to call the beer Blue Moon in Canada too, right?
Unfortunately not, writes St. John. In a fight to distribute its own brands in Canada, Miller had sued Molson before MillerCoors had registered the Blue Moon trademark. So, he sums up, “Miller owns a portion of the Blue Moon trademark in Canada and due to their infighting with Molson, we get Belgian Moon.”
In other words, Blue Moon is Belgian Moon in Canada because a Canadian company trademarked “Blue Moon” before Coors did. Now, even though MillerCoors had gained ownership of the Blue Moon trademark in the U.S. and Canada by 2013, because of internal conflict between Miller and Molson, the beer was released as Belgian Moon, and remains as such.
(Another fun fact: Although the origin story of Blue Moon says the recipe was inspired by brewmaster Keith Villa’s brewing education in Belgium, the orange wedge was not a cultural appropriation. That little touch was added stateside to add to the beer’s visual appeal.)
Go forth and conquer, beer drinkers. And if you ever start a brewery, remember to trademark your brands.
Blue Moon: A Timeline
Here’s a brief overview of Blue Moon’s history:
Bellyslide Belgian White is developed by Keith Villa, brewmaster of Coors’ SandLot brewery in Denver, Colorado.
Production moves to Utica, New York, now under the name “Blue Moon.”
Blue Moon production moves to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Blue Moon production moves to Memphis, Tennessee.
South African Breweries purchases Miller Brewing Company, creating SABMiller.
Molson of Canada and Coors of the U.S. merge, becoming Molson Coors.
Blue Moon production moves to Golden, Colorado and Montreal, Canada — but neither Blue Moon nor Belgian Moon is available in Canada.
SABMiller and Molson Coors create MillerCoors.
Blue Moon production moves to Golden, Colorado and Eden, North Carolina.
Blue Moon becomes the largest “craft” beer brand in the U.S. (It still is today.)
MillerCoors registers the American trademark of Blue Moon in Canada, effective 2012.
MillerCoors secures the Canadian trademark of Blue Moon from 2008474 Ontario.
Molson Coors Canada announces Blue Moon will be coming to Canada for the first time, as Belgian Moon.
Belgian Moon is available on draft at select restaurants and bars.
(To add to the confusion, Belgian Moon’s release is timed two weeks after a rare blue moon sighting in Canada.)
Belgian Moon makes its debut at Canadian beer and liquor stores.
Blue Moon remains the top-selling “craft” beer brand in the U.S.
Blue Moon founder Keith Villa resigns after 22 years.