Judge dismisses suit claiming bourbon was falsely advertised

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Posted: Aug 24, 2015 7:03 PM
Judge dismisses suit claiming bourbon was falsely advertised

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Spirits company Beam Suntory has won another round in fighting off lawsuits accusing its classic Kentucky bourbon brands of false advertising for claiming the products are handcrafted.

In the company's latest victory, a federal judge in California dismissed a suit aimed at whiskey giant Jim Beam.

Plaintiff Scott Welk said he was enticed into buying a bottle of Jim Beam's white label bourbon at a premium price due to the handcrafted claim on the label. The suit said the labeling boast enables Beam to sell bourbon at a higher price because consumers connect "handcrafted" with high-end products.

Welk claimed Jim Beam bourbon is actually made using a mechanized or automated process requiring little human involvement.

His suit accused Beam of violating California's false advertising and unfair competition laws by intentionally misrepresenting consumers. He tried to pursue claims as a class-action suit.

In a ruling Friday in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said stills and other equipment have always been necessary to make bourbon.

"A reasonable consumer wouldn't interpret the word 'handcrafted' on a bourbon bottle to mean that the product is literally 'created by a hand process rather than by a machine,'" the judge wrote. "Thus, it isn't 'reasonably interpreted as a statement of objective fact.'

"And if Jim Beam uses the term 'handcrafted' to appeal to consumers' loose association of the term with 'higher quality manufacturing and high-end products,' as Welk suggests, then it isn't 'specific and measurable.'"

Two similar lawsuits against Maker's Mark bourbon, another Beam Suntory brand, were dismissed this year. Those suits — one in California, the other in Florida — took aim at bottle labeling promoting the bourbon as handmade. Maker's Mark bottles are known for their red-wax seal.

Kentucky is home to 95 percent of the world's bourbon production.

Beam Suntory said Monday it had put such attacks behind it with last week's decision in California.

"We are pleased with this swift and decisive victory, which ends the last remaining lawsuit against the labeling of our bourbon brands," company spokesman Clarkson Hine said.

Beam Suntory, headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, is a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings Limited of Japan.

Welk's attorney, Abbas Kazerounian, said a decision on whether to appeal hadn't been made.

"Obviously we're disappointed with the results," he said Monday.