A cease and desist email from Matthew McConaughey’s lawyers almost a year ago ignited an “expensive, stressful and at times all consuming process” for Banks Brewing, but the Australian craft brewery bares no ill will towards the American actor and only sees positives from the experience that has helped shape their new-look core range of beers.

Back in May 2021, and mere weeks after receiving the first 60,000 printed can shipment of their core range McConaughaze DDH Pale Ale, the Seaford, Victoria-based Banks Brewing received an email titled “Cease and Desist” from the actor’s legal counsel. It was determined, that due to the beer’s name, that’s inspired by McConaughey’s role in the film Dazed and Confused, the actor was “annoyed when… people are constantly trying to profit from his brand”.

Speaking with Beer & Brewer, Banks’ co-founder Chris Farmer said ever since they first released the beer as a seasonal they were weary of its name raising issues.

“We’d had that beer for nearly two years but had heard nothing so we took the plunge and got it in a printed can. Literally three or four weeks later we got the email and I was like ‘oh god’.

“But our lawyer said ‘if you want to fight this, and you want to take it to court, I’m very confident you will win, but it will cost you. So is it worth that to you?’. I basically said ‘no it’s not’.”

Then, in an attempt to recoup the cost of the printed can run, the brewery asked the actor’s legal team whether they could get through their current stock before changing the beer’s name for good.

In what almost turned out to be a close working relationship between the two parties, if it wasn’t for Wild Turkey’s legal fine print, McConaughey then returned with a counter offer: “What about you keep the name of the beer, we’ll endorse it and you donate proceeds of its sale to (my) charity which supports youth homelessness in the States?”.

Aside from the fact it wasn’t an Australian charity, it was a dream scenario for Chris. But as it turned out, due to the actor’s long-standing commercial partnership with Wild Turkey where he isn’t able to endorse another alcoholic product, the deal eventually fell over – but not before Banks would be allowed to sell their remaining cans and “yes, (McConaughey) would be very happy to receive a case of the McConaughaze sent to a ranch in Texas”.

“Throughout all of this, they have been incredible, hospitable and very human about it,” Chris said.

“It was stressful for sure, but it did snowball, and through that we have ended up with the rebrand and what we believe is a huge step forward for us as a brewery.”

Alright, alright, Alriiight

Recently released in a freshly minted printed can along with the rest of Banks’ core range, McConaughaze is now known as Alriiight which, potentially asking for more legal letters, is inspired by McConaughey’s character David Wooderson’s “alright, alright, alright” catch-cry from the Dazed and Confused film. The actor has since gone on to use those words on numerous occasions, including in his acceptance speech for winning Best Actor at the 2014 Oscars.

Banks didn’t run the new name past McConaughey’s team, but the brewery’s lawyers felt “they might be disappointed in it, but (we) don’t think they’ll be able to come back at you because it’s one word, it’s not copywrited and it’s not even spelled correctly”.

“There was a feeling of like ‘we’re going to jump straight back on their radar’,” Chris said. “But we really liked the look of the can, and we wanted it to still hold that connection that it always has – and the connection that people have with the beer. We didn’t want to go too far away from its origins.”

‘If we have to do one, we might as well do them all’

Regardless of dodging the bullet of any expensive legal costs associated with a fight over McConaughaze, Banks would still shell out significantly as they felt by having to change that beer’s name would allow them to undertake an overdue overhaul of their entire core range.

Unlike most breweries, whose core range is exactly that – core – Banks’ perennial beers play second fiddle to their limited release program. For that reason they have been allowed to play “somewhat loosely” with the core range’s designs which, including this latest one, have gone through three separate iterations since the brewery founded in May 2016.

Alongside Alriiight, and all now available in new-look cans that feature the company’s new logo as well (until a name change in November 2021, they were previously known as Mr Banks) the brewery’s core range features Juice Fit DDH IPA, West Coast IPA, Day Trip Pale Ale and Foam Pilsner.

“It was overdue. We needed something a bit stronger and a bit more accessible. It felt like if we have to do one, we might as well do them all.

“A lot of the craft community know who we are, and they look out for our limiteds. But as much as we are 100 per cent going down the limited release path as our major direction, I did feel the core range needed to be something that appealed a bit more to the everyday craft drinker in the way it looked and the way it drank.

“Some people have said ‘are you doing this to get ready to sell out to one of the majors’ but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It’s about having a stronger product that was a little all over the place in the past and to bring it all into line and for them to have a similarity.”

Would you do anything differently?

“(Our journey) has given us the freedom to do what we’ve done since day one – whether that’s about the branding or the beer. That’s the benefit of the size that we are.

“As much as we have freewheeled this all along, I wouldn’t change a thing with the way we’ve done it.”

You can read more about Banks Brewing’s rebrand story here.

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