By Richard Thomas
For at time, it looked like the fires of the “misleading whiskey label” mania had finally sputtered out and died, crushed under the weight of its own inane frivolity. But it seems a few embers were left and have given rise to a new lawsuit, suing Sazerac for putting a misleading label on Old Charter.
Nicholas Parker of New York alleges that when Sazerac took the age statement off their Old Charter Bourbon, previously an 8 year old whiskey, but kept the number “8” as part of the labeling in an effort to mislead the public and dupe them into purchasing a markedly inferior product. His lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accuses Sazerac of seven acts of misleading practices. Parker and several unnamed parties are seeking class action status, and are represented by Scott Bursor, Joseph Marchese and Yitzchak Kopel of Bursor & Fisher PA, who successfully nailed Starkist to the tune of $12 million for underfilling cans of tuna.
Is There A Case Here?
Old Charter 10 Year Old was discontinued in 2013 and Old Charter 8 Year Old in 2014. The latter was effectively converted into an No Age Statement (NAS) whiskey, with all direct references to age taken off the label, but the numeral “8” was kept in the labeling.
Parker may have a point, at least insofar as the label being confusing. Reports of drinkers picking up a bottle of Old Charter NAS thinking it was Old Charter 8 Year Old, and coming away surprised and disappointed at how bad it was, appeared in blogs and on forums in 2014 and 2015. That said, and as was the case for most of the previous “deceptive whiskey” lawsuits, the prospects for Parker and his attorneys aren’t bright.
Says Brian DeFoe, who owns the blog Hoochlaw, “My assessment is that this is a case where a producer did something fairly sneaky, and perhaps a bit deceptive, but nevertheless in compliance with law […] leading a plaintiff to bring a fairly lousy case which will nevertheless probably settle for a modest payment to the plaintiff and his lawyers.”
Thus, the Old Charter lawsuit is not completely frivolous. It may do better than the completely failed lawsuits against Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Angel’s Envy, but perhaps not as well as the only semi-successful example to date, the set of lawsuits brought against Templeton Rye. These actions against Templeton have been the only examples of a recent lawsuit against a whiskey company for engaging in deceptive labeling and marketing that have gained any real measure of success, and in that instance the payout to individual claimants was less than the cost of a bottle of the whiskey in question.