What’s in a (North Country brand) name?

Does it matter if Parmesan cheese is made in the Adirondacks?  What if Adirondack beer is made in Parma?  (Photo:  Brian Mann)

Does it matter if Parmesan cheese is made in the Adirondacks? What if Adirondack beer is made in Parma? (Photo: Brian Mann)

Senator Charles Schumer walked a complicated line on Friday when he toured the North Country singing the praises of artisan foods.

In the morning, he visited Lake Placid, arguing that tax cuts could spur a renaissance in craft beer production.

The growth of companies like the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery would mean “more Lake Placid labels reaching people throughout the country…and so it has an added benefit of advertising this area because of the serendipity of the name.”

But later in the day, Schumer argued that truly local brand names shouldn’t be protected by international trade law.

During a visit to the Macadam cheese plant in Chateaugay, Schumer urged the US to oppose efforts by European countries to essentially trademark geographically specific names such as “munster” (a town in France) and “parmesan” (which developed in the Parma region of Italy).

“Cheese production is a growing industry in Franklin County and Upstate New York, but right now it faces a major threat from free trade agreements that could place geographic restrictions on cheese labeling,” said Schumer.

“That’s why I’m urging Ambassador Froman to hold nothing back when negotiating on behalf of U.S. cheese producers—because Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it.”

But that’s a double-edged cheese knife that Sen. Schumer is wielding.

While New York cheese-makers hope to borrow the cachet and easy recognition of long-established European cheeses, wines and other products, we’re watching our local brands be outsourced at a troubling pace.

Old Adirondack, a furniture maker in Willsboro, closed its doors a few years ago, in part because of withering competition from overseas makers who sell traditional “Adirondack chairs” at a fraction the price.

The wood isn’t local and neither is the label.  But they still carry the design and the name of our region.

And it turns out that the vast majority of beer that carries a North Country label — Lake Placid, 46er, Adirondack, etc. — is also produced outside our region, mostly in Utica.

As the Senator notes, that creates a valuable advertising opportunity, but most of the production jobs are located elsewhere.

The way companies are bought and sold these days, there’s no reason why “our” locally branded beers couldn’t eventually be produced by a company headquartered in Spain or Taiwan.

Other American regions and states have taken a different approach to regional branding.

Vermont, for example, carefully protects its brand, even taking legal action against producers who make a claim to the Vermont identity and to Vermont standards, without walking the walk.

And there’s some reason to think that this kind of brand-caution has merit.

As more and more consumers yearn for authentic, locally produced products — the locavore-farmer’s market-artisanal industry is booming — people may be increasingly turned off when the realize that it’s difficult to find a true Adirondack chair.

Will it matter if at some point down the road an “Adirondack” labelled beer is produced in New Jersey or Pennsylvania?  It’s a question we might want to put to the people of Munster or Parma.



19 Comments on “What’s in a (North Country brand) name?”

  1. Jim Bullard says:

    I’ve always thought it odd that Adirondack Community College is in Queensbury, close to bur not IN the Adirondacks while the Community College in the Adirondacks is North Country Community College. I have a friend who lives down near Binghamton who makes “Adirondack” chairs using western cedar. Should early settlers have been allowed to name communities here after places in Europe? Potsdam, Canton, Copenhagen, Denmark, Carthage, Syracuse, etc., etc. the list goes on and on. Arizona Tea became the target of a boycott a while back when the state took an unpopular position on immigrants but the tea isn’t from Arizona. The company started in Brooklyn. Let he who never appropriated the name of another place cast the first stone.

  2. verplanck says:

    Parmesan is definitely from Parma, all else is a pale substitute. If NNY makes it, call it shakey cheese:


  3. I was surprised that Lake Placid Brewery beer was made in Utica. They have a brew pub in the village of LP itself, where I ate last night. It was a decent sized building so I assumed they brewed the beer there too. Pity.

  4. Jim: SUNY Adirondack is not technically inside of the blue line but the town it’s located in is partially inside the blue line. It also serves students from many southern Adirondack towns so I think it’s less objectionable.

    ACC is about 2 or 3 miles from the Blue Line, Utica 20 or 25.

  5. David Sommerstein says:

    Brian (MOFYC…) – If I’m not mistaken, the beer you drank at the brewpub in LP IS produced on site. It’s the six- and twelve-packs of bottles sold in supermarkets and convenience stores that are produced at the Saranac factory in Utica.

    Speaking of which, how did Utica Club end up stealing the Saranac name? ;)

  6. Rick says:

    Little known fact… Sam Adams, Boston Lager, is also brewed in Utica.

  7. Jeff says:

    Branding, licensing even franchising are interesting practices. It seems at some point there comes a time in the development of a trade or product where makers feel it needs to be protected. Licensing of doctors, unionization of steel workers and teachers can be included in that group. Some of course make the course for public safety or other standards such as “organic.”

    “Amish” is a popular appellation and supposedly denotes certain characteristics- or infers something.

    Generally it is an attempt to attach the known to the unknown to draw interest in the unknown. What is that block of white stuff with blue lines? In France it may be Bleu cheese but not so in England because it is Bleu only in France….

    You’ve spoken of branding the Adirondacks before. I knew little of the Adirondacks before college. I lived in a different state. I had more of a sense of Vermont and Wisconsin and New York as a whole from 5th grade geography. What concepts of the Adirondacks are we getting into those geography books? Do we teach regionalism? Last year my 9th grader in private school could name capitols of all countries south of Texas and Florida but had just a smattering of what went on in each country. Yet to promote the Adirondacks, and all regions of the state, is it worth it to have a NY week each year ( or a day a month) in our schools where every day is a different region. Make ambassadors.

    The Great Lake Region, the Fingerlakes Region, the Northern Region, the Southeastern region the Urban Ocean region.

    To get people to come or buy products they have to have a connection. I expect there is more connection to the Catskills by those from NYC than to the Adirondacks because of the close proximity to NYC. More people or their relatives have been to the Catskills.

    I have read the CCC did a lot for people getting into the outdoors after the CCC ran its course. An Adirondack CC program for young adults specifically for the Adirondacks, or NY parks perhaps. They can make trails on the Finch lands… build some leantos… Sing a song along the trail…

    You can’t smell the air on an Ipod
    You can’t feel the creek with your feet
    The fish will not bite, The fire will not light
    You’ll be cold cause you can ‘t feel its heat.

    You have to find Adirondack
    And feel the cold fog on your face
    The sun beating down on the high mountain crown
    Feeds the green forest shading the lakes.

    Otters have found Adirondack,
    The moose and the bears and the loons.
    The fisher and deer will hide when they fear
    So hush when you walk by the moon.

    to the tune of MUSH-MUSH-MUSH TURAL I ADDY

  8. JDM says:

    “arguing that tax cuts could spur a renaissance”

    A true supply-sider!

  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I love being able to go into a store and buy a 6 pack of Ubu Ale. I knew it was brewed in Utica, good for everyone. I believe that Davidson Brothers bottled beer is brewed and bottled out of state (could be wrong in that but I know it isn’t bottled in Glens Falls). The brewery and bottling plant in Saratoga packages several national brands. How does everyone thing that all the local varieties of beer became so widely distributed? In the old days beer was actually distributed or physically imported and if you got some that didn’t sit in a hot shipping container and taste like crap you were lucky. Take a look at Guinness. They brew the stuff everywhere and sell it in a variety of containers and each variety has a slightly different flavor ( I still prefer the bottled Guinness, even over draft).

    Anyway, the brewer at LP Brewery made a very important point, the cost of transportation of a physical product out of the Adirondacks is high. That is the big reason why it is difficult to bring manufacturing to the ADK’s – not because the APA wont allow it.

    Trying to brand products “Adirondack Made” is a nice idea but it will take a very large budget to have any sort of success. I don’t believe it is feasible. Very few people know where the Adk’s are, most people don’t know and don’t care. We might as well be New Hampshire, another place right next to Vermont that nobody cares about.

    But the people who DO know about the Adirondacks tend to be wealthy and intelligent and are willing to buy products of high quality and lasting value. So just make some good stuff and sell it. Forget about trying to create a brand identity.

  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    But if you do want to create brand awareness I have a slogan for you:

    The Adirondacks, you’ll never guess it’s New York.

  11. wakeup says:

    I don’t think that’s accurate that Sam Adams Boston Lager is brewed in Utica

  12. I did not know that about Davidson’s, knuckle. Though I believe they’ve purchased property in Queensbury to expand brewing operations locally. I understand the brewer’s point about transportation cost. I guess it doesn’t bother me since beers like Davidson’s and LPBC originated in the places they’re associated with and still brew some of their beer there. Something like Saranac, which I don’t believe ever had any ties to the Adirondacks, is a little bit different… aside from the fact that it’s not that good.

  13. Pete Klein says:

    Utica Club used to bottle Billy Beer.
    Bottling of beer and all liquid drinks, including Coke and Pepsi, are bottled in many locations to save on transportation.
    Made in the Adirondacks? Let’s be honest. No one outside the Adirondacks cares where an Adirondack chair or anything else Adirondack comes from.
    The Adirondack Museum has its rustic furniture fair this weekend and manufactures from many parts of the country will be there. Same holds true for the antique fairs hosted by the museum and the Town of Indian Lake.
    There is more Baloney made outside of Bologna than there is in Bologna.

  14. Jeff says:

    Saranac Root Beer is very very good, even the diet version. As a kid I used to drink spring water straight from the ground but with “beaver fever” I avoid that. Some things Adirondack can’t be consumed. That is one reason alcoholic beverages were popularized ages ago-preservation. I doubt the fact that black flies and mosquitoes are numerous in the Adirondacks are features of promotional jingles.

    The identity is the aah feeling, the happy memories, the mystical desire, the depth of history, the I want some of that. If it can be consumed elsewhere it will be. The goal is to either bring the consumers in or bring in their money. Franchising brings the money home when the product is delivered elsewhere. Yes it is a challenge to attach the concept to objects and products that bring the money home. “Made in” isn’t always a concern of the consumer. Need to sell the idea of “come, take your own pictures, make your own footprints, take your own memories.” WILCOR products seem to be pervasive in every convenience store in the park- to their credit. That stuff is mostly from overseas.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Saranac also makes an excellent ginger beer. Try a Dark and Stormy sometime using it.

    While Utica may not be within the Blue Line it was a major jumping off point for those headed into the Adirondacks long before car travel. F X Matt used to brew some truly awful beer – Utica Club, Matt’s, and more – but they were early adopters in the “craft brew” movement in NY. Not Newman’s Albany Amber early but they were making Season’s Best in the mid 80’s. Some of their varieties are quite good, Black Forest for example. Not as good as Ubu, but very good. Davidson’s Brown is also very good as bottled beer goes, though their offerings at the brewery are mostly even better. Cooper’s Cave Ale Company in Glens Falls is also a great little brewery, once the smallest brewery without a brew pub attached in NY, maybe the country, but then they built a restaurant. Right on the Warren County Bikeway which is a well used Rail to Trail. They also brew great soda and make their own ice cream. No, they aren’t in the Blue Line but they are within a few blocks of where half the logs that came out of the Adk’s ended up.

    And to all the brewers who may be listening: just stop it with the excess hops! Hops today in beer is like oak aging was to white wine in the 80’s and 90’s. Hops is a great flavoring and I like a bitter beer but it isn’t a competition to withstand bitterness.

  16. True story… a few days ago, a couple of friends of mine and I climbed Mount Haystack in Ray Brook. One of them posted about it on Facebook. One of his friends (from New Jersey), seeing this, encouraged us to visit the Saranac brewery, assuming it was in that area.

  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Considering that the Adirondack Park is bigger than the state of New Jersey it isn’t surprising that the friend didn’t understand the scale. He might have figured it was like the size of Asbury Park or something.

  18. hermit thrush says:

    knuck: hops are delicious!

  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    ht, not you too!?!

    Over hopping an IPA is for brewers who haven’t mastered their craft. Hey, I love a good IPA – emphasis on good. Most IPA’s these days are too hoppy.

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