Idaho beer with Alaska-sounding name stirs controversy after entering Anchorage market

Mark Staples, president and founder of Midnight Sun Brewing Co., (left) and Lee Ellis, head...
Mark Staples, president and founder of Midnight Sun Brewing Co., (left) and Lee Ellis, head brewer (right) on Oct. 20, 2016 in a production room in Anchorage. KTUU Photo by Shawn Wilson. (KTUU)
Published: Oct. 20, 2016 at 4:58 PM AKDT
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An Idaho beer with an Alaska-sounding name has entered the Anchorage market, much to the dismay of one of the oldest and largest craft breweries in the Last Frontier.

Midnight Sun Brewing Co. of Anchorage is preparing to send a cease-and-desist letter to Sockeye Brewing, based in Boise, over the company’s decision to start selling beer in Alaska.

“Hopefully we won’t have to go to court,” said Barb Miller, Midnight Sun vice president.

Sockeye Brewing recently began selling product to some Brown Jug growler bars and Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse and is working on getting its beers into Fred Meyer stores, said Lee Ellis, head brewer at Midnight Sun. Fred Meyer, owned by retail giant Kroger Co., has more than 10 locations in Alaska, according to the company’s website.

The flagship beer of Anchorage-based Midnight Sun is Sockeye Red IPA, which represents a large portion of the brewery’s overall sales. The brewery, incorporated in 1995, is concerned that an Idaho beer with an iconic name could create “brand confusion" in Alaska.

“It’s a really big deal for us. The trademark is so similar to ours that we feel if they start selling their beers in this market the consumer is not going to know what they’re buying, whether they’re buying a local, craft beer made in Alaska or another beer with a very similar name,” said Mark Staples, president and founder of Midnight Sun.

The Boise brewery expressed surprise by the strong reaction of Midnight Sun, which took to social media recently to ask its supporters shun Sockeye Brewing’s beers in Alaska as an “easy way” to drive them out of the state.

“It has caught us off guard,” said Janice Skinner, Sockeye Brewing’s business manager. “I do have my attorney looking into some of the legal ramifications.”

Sockeye reached out to Midnight Sun “multiple times before entering the market.”

“They didn’t get back to us,” Skinner said.

Miller said she’s not aware of any outreach on the part of Sockeye Brewing prior to entering the Anchorage market.

The craft brew industry is usually a collegial bunch and it’s surprising and disappointing to see a situation like this emerge, Staples said.

Staples said he and Sockeye Brewing are in touch and he is hoping they will agree to exit the Alaska market voluntarily. If not, his company is prepared to file a trademark lawsuit.

“I think one of the most ironic facts is that a brewery in Idaho is calling itself Sockeye Brewing Co. when here we are in the capital of sockeye fish in the world. I think the sockeye run was about 500 in Idaho last year and I know we probably pull better numbers than that in Potter Marsh,” said Ellis.

The green-headed salmon is an Alaska icon in Ellis' view.

“It’s not just an out-of-state company using something that people in Alaska recognize. It’s a bit of pirating something that means a lot more to us than I think it means to most people around the country and around the world,” he said.

Contact KTUU Senior Digital Reporter Paula Dobbyn at, 907-762-9242 or @pauladobbyn,/b>