When it comes to beer, wine, and liquor, many consumers are purists. For such people, drinking beer not brewed by a craft brewer or wine not originating from a French grape is sacrilegious. Recently, a proposed class of bourbon drinkers took to the courtroom to test this principle. Named plaintiffs Safora Nawrouzi and Travis Williams have filed suit against Maker’s Mark in federal court in San Diego alleging that the Kentucky bourbon’s claims to be “handmade” are false and misleading to the tune of $5 million in damages. In other words, put an allegedly false label on spirits and be prepared to award the plaintiffs a pond full of liquor. The problem apparently lies with the Maker’s Mark bottle, which contains a label that reads, “Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky Handmade.” Plaintiffs find this label inaccurate. According to the Complaint, Maker’s Mark
promotes its whiskey as being ‘handmade’ when in fact defendant’s whiskey is manufactured using mechanized and-or automated processes, which involves little to no human supervision, assistance or involvement, as demonstrated by photos and video footage of defendant’s manufacturing process.
Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the automated process includes grinding and breaking up the grains, mixing grains with yeast and water, transferring to fermenting vats, and bottling.
We here at Abnormal Use do not know what effect, if any, the alleged mechanized processes may have on the taste of the bourbon. According to Plaintiffs, however, it has enough of any effect that they wouldn’t have purchased the bourbon had they known it wasn’t “handmade.” Of course, the bigger question is what Plaintiffs (and Maker’s Mark for that matter) mean by “handmade.” For a company that sells more than 9 million bottles of bourbon a year, we would think it reasonable for Plaintiffs to expect some amount of automation. Maker’s Mark, however, will have to prove that there remains a “hand” other than a robotic one involved in the process. As bourbon drinkers, this will be a suit we will follow closely.