Kona Brewing owner sued

KAILUA-KONA — The bottle might say “Liquid Aloha,” but two California residents say the company that owns Kona Brewing Co. is misleading shoppers into believing they’re buying beer brewed in the Aloha State.

A lawyer representing the two filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., which owns Kona Brewing Co., in federal court, alleging violations of California advertising law and misrepresentation. Kona Brewing Co. is not specifically named as a defendant in the case.

“Plaintiffs would not have purchased the beer or would have paid significantly less for the beer, had they known the true origins of the Kona Brewing Co. beer they purchased,” states the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court of California Northern District.

Kona Brewing Co. on its website says that while the Kailua-Kona brewery produces more than 12,000 barrels annually, the company produces its bottled beer and mainland draft in mainland breweries located in Oregon, Washington state, Tennessee and New Hampshire.

The site goes on to say that recipes and specifications are dictated by Kona Brewing’s brewmaster and that samples of each batch are sent to the Kailua-Kona brewery for evaluation.

The list of locations, also to include Kona, is printed on the labeling.

The suit itself says there’s no information on the bottle or packaging that could be considered a disclosure of the beer’s origin and, to the extent the list on the label is supposed to be “some type of disclosure,” the suit argues that it is a “flat-out misrepresentation,” because no bottled, canned or draft beer sold in the mainland is made in Hawaii.

One specific point of contention the lawsuit raises is the water that goes into producing Kona Brewing Co. beer.

According to the website, water mineral levels at each partner brewery in the mainland are tweaked to replicate the water in Hawaii. But that’s not enough, the suit argues.

Even if the Craft Brew Alliance could replicate local water, something the plaintiffs allege the company can’t do, customers “are still being deprived of what Craft Brew has promised them and what they have paid for — namely, a Hawaiian beer.”

And even though the Kona Brewing Co. website notes that much of its beer is brewed in partner breweries, the lawsuit alleges that Craft Brew Alliance doesn’t do enough to inform customers that the company’s bottled and mainland draft beer isn’t actually brewed in Hawaii.

The lawsuit argues that the beer is “falsely labeled as made in Hawaii” and does so “to exploit strong consumer sentiment for Hawaiian-made products.”

The specific phrase “made in Hawaii” doesn’t appear on bottles or packaging, but the lawsuit points to “intentionally deceptive Hawaii-origin representations” on the labeling and packaging of the company’s products.

“The entire brand image of Kona Brewing Co. — including the name itself — revolves around its purported Hawaii origins,” the lawsuit states.

Kona Brewing Co. has its origins in Hawaii, specifically Kona, where the brewery was started in 1994, according to its website.

The lawsuit includes among the allegedly “intentionally deceptive” representations the use of the phrase “Liquid Aloha” on bottles and “Kona Brewing Co.” on packaging.

The court filing also alleges the use of “specific, misleading Hawaii-origin representations” on individual Kona Brewing Co brands.

The Longboard Island Lager, for instance, “refers to surfing and the Hawaiian lifestyle,” argues the suit, and includes imagery of surfboard, surfers and Diamond Head. The lawsuit makes similar arguments for several other of the brand’s specific styles.

Finally, the suit argues that the beer is falsely advertised as being made in Hawaii, quoting the brewery’s social media accounts which are “rife with Hawaii imagery and references.”

That imagery is “extremely powerful,” states the lawsuit.

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