Maker's Mark Can Still Call Itself "Handmade"

maker-caskFlorida district courts recently dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by two Florida whiskey consumers. The lawsuit challenged Maker’s Mark’s label claim that it is “handmade,” claiming that, had the plaintiffs known that Maker’s Mark was made using elaborate contemporary machinery and not (I imagine) a hand-cranked grain mill and picturesque water wheel, “they would not have purchased the product, or would have paid less for it, or purchased a different product.”

The ruling was received with delight by Beam Suntory’s communications team, who fired off a glowing press release in response. “We have asserted all along that the complaints in this case were frivolous and without merit, and we are very pleased the court agreed with our position so emphatically” said Maker’s Mark COO Rob Samuels in a statement.

That “position” the court agreed with? “No reasonable person would understand ‘handmade’ in this context to mean literally made by hand. No reasonable person would understand ‘handmade’ in this context to mean substantial equipment was not used. If ‘handmade’ means only made from scratch, or in small units, or in a carefully monitored process, then the plaintiffs have alleged no facts plausibly suggesting the statement is untrue. If ‘handmade’ is understood to mean something else—some ill-defined effort to glom onto a trend toward products like craft beer—the statement is the kind of puffery that cannot support claims of this kind.”

In other words, while spurious label claims about place-of-origin are starting to attract serious legal attention (see Templeton Rye, WhistlePig, etc.), regular old marketing “puffery” still isn’t against the law.

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