Bulleit Bourbon, owned by Diageo plc, has been sued for false advertising, deceptive trade practices and unfair competition in light of allegedly misleading statements on its bottles. In a spate of recent lawsuits, Tito’s Vodka, Maker’s Mark, and Jim Beam were targeted because of “handmade” claims. The Bulleit lawsuit targets a different but common practice in the spirits industry. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that Bulleit’s label erroneously states that the product is “DISTILLED BY THE BULLEIT DISTILLING CO … IN LAWRENCEBURG, KENTUCKY.” Rather, the complaint alleges, Bulleit does “not currently operate a distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky” and its products are actually “’distilled’ and/or produced by the Kirin Brewing Company, Limited.”
For support, Complaint refers to an article by Bloomberg Business titled Bourbon Bait and Switch: What’s Really in Your Glass? which asserts that Bulleit, “[d]espite saying on the label that it’s ‘distilled by the Bulleit Distilling Company in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky,’ there is in fact, no such thing.” Reference is also made to an article from Fox Business, titled Global Liquor Giant Diageo To Produce Bulleit Bourbon, Rye Whiskeys At New Kentucky Distillery, which notes that Bulleit is currently made at a non-Diageo distillery in Kentucky.
What the Complaint doesn’t mention is that it is generally known that Bulleit Bourbon sources their bourbon from Four Roses Distillery which is, in fact, located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (and owned by Kirin Brewing Co. Ltd). And that this practice of sourcing whiskey is quite common but not generally highlighted on labels.
Nevertheless, the key questions in the lawsuit are likely to be: How was anyone harmed by Bulleit sourcing its bourbon from a respected distiller in Kentucky as opposed to distilling the bourbon in Kentucky itself? And is there an identifiable class of consumers that reasonably relied on the alleged misrepresentations in purchasing the product?
For its part, the Complaint offers the usual allegations for damages, i.e., that “Plaintiff and other similarly situated consumers” were presented with “the false impression that the bourbon was of superior quality by virtue” the misrepresentations, that they therefore overpaid for the bourbon, and “had they been made aware that Bulleit Bourbon was not was not distilled by or at ‘THE BULLEIT DISTILLING CO.,’ they would have not purchased the bourbon, or would have paid less for the product, or would have purchased a different product from another manufacturer.”
A spokesperson for Diageo has labeled the lawsuit as a “baseless and frivolous action.”