Big bourbon, like any other industry, is a big target upon which to sling a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Jim Beam, whose white label is the biggest-selling bourbon by volume, was hit last month with a $5 million-plus lawsuit over claims that it is "handcrafted."
The lead plaintiff, Scott Welk, is represented by Abbas Kazerounian and Mona Amini of Kazerouni Law Group APC and by Joshua B. Swigart of Hyde & Swigart who filed a similar lawsuit against Maker's Mark last December.
The case caption is Scott Welk v. Beam Suntory Import Co., et al., Case No. 3:15-cv-00328, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
Angel's Envy, Tito's Vodka and Templeton Rye face similar suits.
These suits are not only slimy, but they are doomed to fail in court. For one, establishing damages will be difficult for Welk and crew. At best, victory for the plaintiff will be Jim Beam and others removing the words "handcrafted" or "handmade" from their labels.
The class must be able to establish that Jim Beam is a more expensive bourbon than a comparable brand because of the “handcrafted” statement. However, we make our bourbon buying decisions on so much more than mere packaging. Many other factors matter, even to the relatively uninformed bourbon consumer. (e.g. brand history, ingredients, color, bottle, online reviews, etc.)
A second difficulty is establishing that the “handcrafted” statement misleads a "substantial portion of the consuming public." Does anyone really believe that only human hands were involved in the process? You can go to these companies' websites and watch videos of their machine-run distilling and bottling operation for crying out loud...
Finally, Beam Suntory and Maker's Mark can invoke a "safe harbor" defense, thanks to the fact that the labels were pre-approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
We'll see how these play out, but I just cannot imagine a big pay day for Welk, the class, and the attorneys who file these suits. They need to relax and have a drink. There are plenty of good bourbons that don't say "handcrafted" on the bottle...