Litigation over Exile Brewing’s Ruthie beer has been working its way through the state and federal legal systems for more than two years. But now that a mediation effort has failed, the dispute is going to trial…
And as much as we hate to see naming rights disputes in the beer biz, this case is interesting and its outcome uncertain.
In 2020, the estate of legendary bartender from the 50s sued Exile Brewing, a Des Moines, Iowa craft brewery, for using her persona to advertise its bestselling beer.
The brewery had been producing its Ruthie lager, which make up more than half of its annual sales, with no complaints for more than eight years…
Ruthie Fontanini (who later went by Ruthie Bisignano) was a beer legend in so many ways.
Not only was she one of the very few, if not the only woman to own and operate her own Des Moines, Iowa bar in the 50’s, she was renowned for her ability to serve beers hands-free, balancing two pint glasses on her chest.
In spite of her pinup persona, “Ruthie was a consummate businesswoman,” according to Vice and “charged 50 cents a pint when every other pub in town could only fetch 17 cents.” And her special serving routine understandably became legend drawing travelling salesmen and politicians alike to see Ruthie in action…
Ruthie is also Exile Brewing’s bestselling lager. They’ve been brewing it since they opened 2012 using the legend’s likeness and amusingly marketing it as “balanced.”
The suit, which was filed in 2020, alleged that “Exile profited without permission from the use of Bisignano’s name, identity, persona, likeness and symbol, according to the Des Moines Register.” “It demands the estate of Frank Bisignano, her late husband, be compensated for damages and that the court require Exile to receive written permission from the family before using her name or image for its business.”
The suit further alleged that “”Exile knowingly and willfully has and continues to use (Ruthie Bisignano’s name, image and persona) and in reckless and wanton disregard of Plaintiff’s interests and rights.”
In June, 2022 the parties agreed to mediation by Mark Bennett, a former federal judge, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.
But in August the attorneys for both sides informed the court that that mediation “was unsuccessful in resolving any issue in the case.
Exile Brewing’s website explained its bestselling beer, which was named the official craft beer of the Iowa State Fair in 2019, as a “tribute to a real Des Moines original and the finest woman to ever serve beer in our capital city.”
But tribute, or not, things could get ugly as this long-running dispute heads to trial this fall.
(Image credits: Exile Brewing)