Does Your Brewery Have Secrets to Protect?

I saw a story earlier this year about former employees at Summit Brewing  being sued by the company for allegedly sharing trade secrets with a local competitor brewery.

For a brewery the size of Summit, the 26th largest craft brewery by volume in 2016, that made me curious as to what sort of size a brewery has to be, and what exactly can be considered “trade secrets.” I contacted many different sized breweries with such a question and nary a one in the “Top 50” got back to me on it. Understandably so. In a craft beer world where the word “family” and “culture” are bandied about, I think it’s easier to smile and nod and ignore the question than to air dirty laundry. But it’s a part of business and some breweries did share their thoughts. For the ones that did, having brewers or other members of the brewery aren’t legally bound to a formalized process or have to sign a non-compete clause.

“Both actions seem to set a tone of corporate mistrust with the team,” said Upland Brewing President Doug Dayhoff. “Ultimately you have to believe in your company’s culture to be your strongest competitive advantage.”


Although not written into a contract per se, a head brewer did tell me that they were encouraged by their owner not to start working within a 25-mile radius of the brewery should they decide to take another job in the future. Although not legally enforceable, it was more of a common courtesy they explained since the craft beer culture in the area is still growing.

When it comes to sharing recipes, some beers, said Adam Watson of Sloop Brewing, they just don’t like to disclose exactly what hops are in the beer.

“In which case when people ask, we usually just say it’s a blend of a bunch of different hops and then maybe say one or two varieties,” he said.

Augie Carton explained brewing techniques and why sharing information isn’t a big deal: “Different chefs and different ovens roast chickens differently,” he said. “I see brewing as similar. I am happy to talk technique with anyone, their chicken will always be a little different than mine and those tiny differences are the game of flavor creation, which is what we do at Carton [Brewing].”

Carton thinks too many people say they are doing what someone else does without really knowing what they do.

“There’s a lot of beers made “just like Heady” that aren’t anything like Heady,” he said. “I think a lot of people are fooling themselves into believing legend and lore rather than thinking critically and I feel it shows in the liquid.”

And if an employee does leave, Carton said his hope is that the person respects the former brewery’s culture enough and have enough self respect to go do their own thing.

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