Atlas to Ashes: the Rise of Burnt City Brewing

It’s an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. Your product is developed, marketed, and sold. Your brand becomes recognizable and people start asking for it by name.

And then somebody says “hey – waitaminute – we had that name first. Give it back.”

You wouldn’t think that could happen in an industry that’s as closely regulated as the beer industry. Heck – they can’t even put a label on a beer unless it’s been thoroughly reviewed and given the stamp of approval. And yet, trademark disputes happen, and that’s exactly what happened with Atlas Brewing Co.

When the Lakeview brewpub and bowling alley opened in 2012 it chose its name as an homage to one of Chicago’s heritage breweries. The original Atlas operated from 1896 until Prohibition forced it to shut down in 1920. Shortly after the 21st century brewery’s opening, however, a D.C. brewery filed paperwork to trademark Atlas Brew Works and the battle began. After three long years the Washington brewery won and Atlas had to find a new name.

“It was a painful realization,” said brewer and co-founder John Saller, but it ended up being a positive change. “In retrospect we were conservative. If we had stayed Atlas we still could have made great beer. But once we settled on Burnt City we decided we were going to burn it all down. It was liberating.”

After something like a hundred different names had been suggested and rejected, brewer and co-founder Ben Saller (John’s brother) one day said “I could really go for some burnt ends.” The metaphorical light bulb lit and they all found a name, and a concept, that resonated with everyone.

This agreement was vital. When Atlas opened there were about 2,000 breweries in the U.S. Since then that number has more than doubled. Chief Operating Officer Greg Lamacki said they knew they couldn’t “muddle about. We had one more shot” and that you can’t trade in a name more than once.

“We were shot. We were wounded. We needed something that would take us to another plateau.”

Burnt City gave them that lift. It’s an original name that is reminiscent of Chicago’s rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire, and it also reflects their own recovery. It also fits with their new menu that includes in-house smoked items like hickory smoked brisket and apple wood smoked sausage.

With this change came a new sense of freedom. While Saller said there’s no major philosophical change in the beers, Burnt City is bolder than Atlas. Their beers and their cans now represent post-Apocalyptic heroes rising from the ashes of devastation like Dick the Butcher and Balloon Boy. 

Burnt City Brewing could have decided the burden of changing their name and their brand was too heavy. Instead, it’s like a weight has been lifted and they’re now free to explore new worlds.

“We’re going to grow back,” said Lamacki. “Just like Chicago did.”

Burnt City Brewing Beer

Burnt City Brewing is located at 2747 N Lincoln Ave. In addition to beer and bbq you can also bowl.






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