Those who fit in the middle of the Venn diagram of “Breaking Bad” and booze lovers might miss Sony’s 2015 short-lived promotional spirit for the show — Heisenberg, “The One Who Knocks” Blue Ice vodka. But as craft beer fans and certain Californians know, there’s another option out there.
Knee Deep Brewing Co., in Auburn, Calif., has made a “Breaking Bad”-themed Indian pale ale since the same year that kooky vodka hit shelves. Breaking Bud has become the brewery’s bestseller, and it nabbed the bronze for American IPAs at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival.
Sony Pictures Television, one of the show’s production companies, isn’t as pleased with the beer. Sony filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Knee Deep in California district court, citing trademark infringement and brand dilution, among other grievances.
Such a beer was probably inevitable. Pop culture references are frequently used by breweries, and “Breaking Bad” — a show about a chemistry teacher who uses his knowledge to make illicit substances — is a particularly good fit for the edgy craft beer world. There has already been a Heisenberg’s Dark and a Walt’s White Lie out of Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, the same city where the show was set.
What set this particular beer apart was that it used specific imagery from the show, namely its logo.
The title sequence of “Breaking Bad” presented the periodic table of elements in forest green with white lettering. The camera zooms out, and with it pops out the squares for elements Bromine and Barium, abbreviated “Br” and “Ba,” respectively. Those abbreviations soon form the beginning of the words “Breaking” and “Bad.”
Knee Deep’s beer uses the same idea, with the first two letters in Breaking Bud being the abbreviations for Bromine (Br) and a fictional 95th element that begins with “Bu.” (The actual 95th element is Americium, which is abbreviated “Am.”) These letters are also white on a green background.
The label also features the brewery’s mascot — a green, alien-looking creature with bushy, black eyebrows — donning a hazmat suit, much like the one that the show’s main characters Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) often wore while making crystal meth.
The beer’s logo also includes three barrels labeled “hops” in a desert, with a storage truck and mountains towering in the background: all references to the show.
This greatly displeased Sony, which claims the direct appropriation is gratuitous.
The harshly worded lawsuit states: “Simply put, rather than investing the time, effort and resources necessary to establish their own reputation and identity,” Knee Deep “instead opted to hijack the famous brand identity” of the show for its “own intended benefit.”
It goes on to claim that the beer’s label design “threatens to erode the value” of the show “by undermining [Sony’s] continuing ability to attract licensees for such marks and secure compensation for the right to associate one’s products with” the show.
Knee Deep chief executive Jerry Moore said in a statement to The Washington Post that he was “surprised by the unexpected lawsuit.”
Moore said Sony contacted the brewery in early 2015, when Breaking Bud was originally introduced, “touting their appreciation of our Breaking Bud beer that made gentle fun of their show.”
He claims to have received an email from Sony reading, “It seems the Knee Deep team are big fans of ‘Breaking Bad’ and we really appreciate the call out to our very popular show.”
“Soon thereafter I spoke with the Sony representative and we discussed the potential benefits of a formal partnership between Knee Deep and Sony, but we ultimately decided not to pursue such a partnership because, among other things, our label has always been meant as a joke and not something seriously connected to the show,” Moore said. “At no point, during those discussions, did Sony ever threaten to sue Knee Deep over the name of the beer.
“We are a small brewery and I don’t appreciate the distraction, not to mention the expense of having to deal with something that should have been addressed three years ago if Sony really had an issue with it,” he continued. “At the end of the day, the quality of the beer is what has made Breaking Bud popular and we should all be able to take a joke.”
Sony’s lawyers have not responded to The Post’s request for comment on Moore’s claims.