What in the world is going on at Blue Canoe?
There’s trouble brewing down in the capital city.
The owners of Blue Canoe Brewing Co. are engaged in a heated battle that will soon play out in a court of law.
Co-owner Ida Cowan filed a lawsuit back in April against her ex-husband and business partner Patrick Cowan, along with brewer-partner Laura Berryhill. The details are just now coming to light.
Ida Cowan claims the pair is guilty of “breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, fraud and conspiracy, trademark infringement and misappropriation, conversion of BCH’s [the LLC the brewery was originally operating under] trade names and marks, unfair competition and false designation of origin or description, violations of the Arkansas Trade Secrets Act, tortious interference with Plaintiff’s contractual relations and business expectancies, and other misconduct…”
Whew…that’s quite a mouthful. You can see the full court filing in all of its 57-page glory here.
Blue Canoe opened with a three-barrel system in the Little Rock River Market District back in 2014. In its first year of production it made 175 barrels of beer. In October 2017 the brewery shifted production to a new 20,000-square foot space at 1637 E. 15th Street. According to statistics complied by the Arkansas Department of Finance, Blue Canoe made 278 barrels of beer last year.
The details of the lawsuit are sordid in nature. Ida Cowan claims that—despite owning a majority of the brewery—she is being pushed out by her partners. They ignored her request for information regarding brewery financials, and they ultimately began operating under a different LLC (listed in the court filing as LBPC Holdings) in early 2017. Ben Davis is listed as an officer of LBPC Holdings and is also named in the lawsuit.
The court filing also describes a number of unsavory actions on the part of Patrick Cowan. I won’t go into detail here, but if true, he needs to take a long look in the mirror. It’s important to note that at this point they are accusations and have not been proven to be fact.
When I was doing research for my book—Arkansas Beer: An Intoxicating History—I attempted to reach the owners of Blue Canoe on a number of occasions. My attempts were either ignored or overlooked and I never spoke to them directly. I was forced to rely on secondary research through newspaper articles and other sources of information. This was confusing to me given the accommodating nature of Arkansas brewers. Considering the timeline of events detailed in the lawsuit, perhaps the owners were too busy dealing with conflict to talk to me?
It’s been a tumultuous year in Arkansas beer. Up in the northwest corner of the state, Bike Rack Brewing Co. is going through its own drama. One of the co-owners is suing the brewery for what he feels is his fair share. The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal reported on that suit last week.
It’s been a fun and relatively drama-free ride in Arkansas beer over the last decade. Now that the industry is maturing, we should probably expect to see more of the ugly side of doing business.
Making beer is, after all, a business.