Monday, October 13, 2014
To Sue or Not to Sue: A Whiskey Conundrum
It's been a tough year for non-distiller producers (aka NDPs), companies that sell whiskey they purchase from elsewhere. Ever since this summer's Daily Beast article about sourcing whiskey went viral, there has been a lot of attention on who buys whiskey from whom.
It didn't take long for lawyers to pick up the scent and now Templeton Rye faces three lawsuits claiming it deceived customers. Tito's Vodka faces another one claiming that its product is not actually "handmade."
After being mentioned in the Daily Beast piece, I received several emails from law firms asking if they could "pick my brain" about the issue. I ignored all of them. I have mixed feelings about these type of consumer lawsuits which don't involve any physical injury. They tend to end with large attorneys fees awards and a minor discount or coupon for consumers. In addition, many of the targets of such lawsuits are small companies, and I don't have the desire to see anyone go out of business over these issues; that would mean less whiskey for all of us.
On the other hand, those of us in the whiskey community have been yelling about this issue for years without much in the way of results. It was two years ago that I raised the problems of the TTB's enforcement of the state of distillation rule, which should have required that companies sourcing from MGP list the state of Indiana on the label. Chuck Cowdery has written extensively about sourcing, and citizen-crusader Wade Woodard has been making complaints to the TTB about potential violations.
But despite all of our yelling, it wasn't until lawsuits were filed that we started seeing results. Suddenly, after years of doing nothing, Templeton is adding "Distilled in Indiana" to its label and has disclosed that it uses flavoring additives in its whiskey. Last week, they've even released a video to try and explain their position to consumers. I'm sure other companies are taking note as well and thinking pretty hard about whether they are being as transparent as they need to be. So maybe lawsuits, despite their downsides, are the best way to get companies to do the right thing.
To sue or not to sue, what say you readers?