Friday, March 24th. 5:35PM.
Loowit Brewing Company’s taproom manager, Jake Swan, stands on a stool behind the bar – gathering the attention of a packed room anticipating a special announcement.
“Thank you all for coming! …Today is the day Shadow Ninja IPA has officially gained enough experience points to reach Grand Master status and will now be forever known as the Shadow Shinobi!”
The crowd cheers and begins some combination of a drum roll and a countdown as Swan climbs the countertop to remove Shadow Ninja IPA from the taplist and reveal Shadow Shinobi IPA. Stickers are handed out and bottles brought in to fill the cooler with the exceptional new design for Shadow Shinobi IPA.
There’s a message emphasized throughout the festivities and repeated to guests as they enter the taproom. Loowit co-owner Devon Bray states it clearly, so there’s no mistake to be made.
“We want to stress that only the name of the beer is changing. The recipe itself will remain the same.”
That was the communication issue. The marketing challenge. The reason for the night’s events.
A lot went in to this moment…
Flashback: Sometime in late 2015.
Loowit Brewing Company is hitting its stride and turning heads in a revitalizing downtown Vancouver. Co-owners Devon Bray and Thomas Poffenroth have perfected a NW-style IPA that is now highly sought after. A key ingredient is a little bit of rye in the malt bill. Not enough to warrant calling it a rye IPA, though. It lurks in the shadows. It’s Shadow Ninja IPA.
This beer has become more than 50% of Loowit’s production. It’s a fan favorite. It has a permanent handle at dozens of Portland Metro Area watering holes.
A message is received. Loowit gets signal. Main screen: turn on. It’s Asheville Brewing.
The message states that Asheville Brewing has trademarked the word “Ninja” as it pertains to any beer. A few cordial emails and phone calls are exchanged. Legal counsel is sought. Loowit agrees to make a plan to transition the name. It’s a transition that required careful planning and a strategy. Remember, this beer is the majority of Loowit’s production.
“Trademark and name disputes are a part of the brewing industry that has become more commonplace as breweries compete to stand out in a crowded marketplace,” shared Poffenroth. “A business protecting it’s brand is normal and we harbor no ill will.”
Present Day: Friday, March 24th. 5:42PM.
Jake Swan dives down not-so-ninja-like from the counter with another surprise for every guest in attendance. It’s a hand-illustrated comic book by Vancouver illustrator Kyle Shold (a beer branding designer for Loowit, Heathen, Valiant, Victor-23 and others).
The comic book lays out the story of the Shadow Ninja faced with the forces of Eastern Ale Clan – here to rightfully take their name back. The Shadow Ninja is engaged in an acrobatic battle on the streets and alleys of downtown Vancouver before finally defeating the goons of the Eastern Ale Clan and confronting the boss. I won’t give away the climactic finale, but the ninja walks away knowing who he really is – The Shadow Shinobi.
It’s brilliant. A 6-page graphic novel used to convey to everyone the reason for the change and turn a would-be negative into an all-out positive.
But wait, there’s more! Friday, March 24th. 5:50PM.
Jake Swan insists everyone follow him into the brewery immediately! There’s seating back there during taproom hours. Tall tables, picnic tables, and an amazing collection of free-play stand-up arcade games like Mortal Kombat, Gauntlet Legends, a NEO GEO cabinet and… there’s one machine shrouded in a black cloak. Only a glowing button reading “COIN” can be seen at the bottom. A “DO NOT TOUCH!!” sign adorns the front.
“In celebrating the leveling up of Shadow Shinobi, we decided that today would be a great day to add a new machine to our free-play arcade arsenal. Without further ado, we give you SHINOBI!”
As if the comic book, the incredible bottle art, the stickers and the posters were not enough, Bray happened upon an actual operational SEGA SHINOBI stand-up arcade machine circa 1987. An unidentified 30-something-year-old slender man in a charity brewfest shirt rushes to the machine like a long lost relative, “YES! Oh, hell yeah! Oh, my God!” He embraces the 8-way joystick like… [meh, there’s not an appropriate analogy here. Moving on.]
Darkness Falls on Vancouver. Friday, March 24th. 7:51PM.
Many Shadow Shinobi IPAs have been enjoyed. A good time had by all. As I leave the taproom and stroll towards my car across a dark and empty Esther Short Park, something moves in the shadows. I sense a presence. A presence I have not felt since…
(The original article and full Shadow Shinobi poster can be found at New School Beer!)