North Coast Brewing Company is reintroducing one of its most popular beers to bars and retail stores after settling a lawsuit with the estate of jazz great Thelonious Monk. Production of “Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale,” a beer brewed in the manner developed by Belgian Trappist monks and featuring Thelonious Monk’s likeness (in monastic robes, no less), was suspended last summer amid a lawsuit with T.S. Monk, son of the late musician.
In the lawsuit, T.S. Monk alleged that North Coast exploited his father’s image and name without permission. In a verbal agreement acknowledged by the suit, the Monk estate originally granted the brewery rights to the image for sale of beer in exchange for an agreement to donate profits to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
Over a ten year period, North Coast donated 1.5 million dollars to the institute. But when T.S. Monk saw brewery merchandise like T-shirts, sweatshirts, and mouse pads with the Brother Thelonious label, too, he asked to revoke the permission.
While production ceased as settlement proceedings took place, bottles of Brother Thelonious already brewed by North Cost remained on shelves. The lawsuit was settled out of court for undisclosed terms late last year.
“Obviously they’re happy with it. and we’re happy with it,” says Doug Moody, senior vice president at North Coast. “We’re very much glad it’s over, glad Brother Thelonious is back, and happy to continue to make really good beer and support jazz education.”
Going forward, donation from the sale of every bottle and keg of Brother Thelonious will be made to the jazz education programs of the Monterey Jazz Festival. That’s in part because the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz is no longer named for the seminal bebop artist. The Monk Estate requested that the institute discontinue its use of the Monk name, and board members renamed the institute the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. The new licensing agreement also allows for the sale of merchandise featuring the beer’s label.
When it was first released, Fort Bragg-based North Coast sought a limited audience for its Brother Thelonious beer, serving the ale at jazz festivals and clubs. But with its snappy label — now redesigned by artist Eric Grbich — punny name, and rich, dark flavor, the beer soon took on a life of its own.
“We discovered that the beer had a much larger following than just folks interested in jazz,” says Moody. “For me personally, one of the more gratifying things was to find out that people who never knew about Thelonious Monk found out about him... [through the beer].”
Brother Thelonious can now, again, be found in bottles across the US, and on tap at venues like the Sequoia room, North Coast’s own jazz club in Fort Brag, where brewery hosts live music every weekend.