Namesake's family serves up lawsuit over Exile Brewing Co.'s top-selling Ruthie beer
John Woodford, the 26-year-old head brewer of Exile Brewing Company in Des Moines, leads a tour of the brewpub's downtown facility.
The estate of Ruthie Bisignano is suing Exile Brewing Co. for "unjustified and unpermitted" use of Bisignano's persona to advertise the Des Moines craft brewery's best-selling Ruthie beer.
The case, filed Monday, alleges that Exile profited without permission from the use of Bisignano's name, identity, persona, likeness and symbol. It demands the estate of Frank Bisignano, her late husband, be compensated for damages and that the court require Exile to receive written permission from the family before using her name or image for its business.
"Exile knowingly and willfully has and continues to use (Ruthie Bisignano's name, image and persona) and in reckless and wanton disregard of Plaintiff’s interests and rights," the suit asserts.
Bisignano was a Des Moines bartender in the 1950s famous for her ability to serve beers hands-free, balancing two pint glasses on her chest. Her skill drew customers and profits to her tavern, Ruthie's Lounge, and made her a legend around city and in national publications.
Exile's Ruthie lager, named in "tribute to a real Des Moines original and the finest woman to ever serve beer in our capital city," according to Exile's website, launched in 2012 when the brewery opened. It is Exile's best-selling beer and was named theofficial craft beer of the Iowa State Fair in 2019.
Exile applied to trademark "Ruthie" in December 2019. In May, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the trademark due to its similarity to Ruth, a grapefruit pale ale that had been sold by Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati.
The Ruth ale has been discontinued, according to Rhinegeist's website. But a May 19 correspondence from the Patent and Trademark Office says Rhinegeist's Ruth trademark remains in effect.
Exile owner R.J. Tursi declined to comment Thursday.
The suit against Exile says the brewery uses Bisignaro's story and image on the label for Ruthie, and that it advertises the brew with slogans from Ruthie's Tavern, including "the world's best balanced beer." It alleges that neither Bisignano, who died in 1993, nor her successors agreed to be affiliated with Exile.
Estate attorney Scott Wadding could not immediately be reached for comment.
Katie Akin is a retail reporter for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or at 515-284-8041. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.
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