LOUISVILLE, KY. — SinFire Cinnamon Whiskey is marketed as a “sinful spirit.” Sazerac Inc. thinks it’s an idea that’s sinfully close to its own brand of cinnamon flavored alcohol, Fireball Whiskey.
Sazerac has sued the makers of SinFire, Hood River Distillers, in federal court in Louisville, asking a judge to declare that the Hood River, Ore., company violated its trademark in trying to sell the booze in the U.S.
New Orleans-based Sazerac, which owns three distilleries in Kentucky, wants a judge to stop Hood River Distillers from using the name SinFire and its label, which includes a serpent-like “S’’ arising from a bed of fire. Sazerac says that label is too similar to its own label, which features a red fire-breathing demon with a serpent-like tongue spitting a ball of fire. Both labels feature a red, black and orange color scheme.
Hood River Distillers, which bills itself as the largest and oldest producer of spirits in the Pacific Northwest, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday afternoon. Amy Preske, a Frankfort, Ky.-based spokeswoman for Sazerac, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
In letters exchanged in December, Sazerac attorney Lori F. Mayall of Palo Alto, Calif., told an attorney for Hood River Distillers the company’s trademark for SinFire is too close to Fireball’s look and name.
“Your client’s SinFire Cinnamon Whiskey conveys a highly similar commercial impression as Sazerac’s Fireball cinnamon whiskey,” Mayall wrote. “Sazerac is committed to protecting its FIRE component brands and the goodwill they have engendered.”
David P. Peterson, an attorney for Hood River Distillers, responded that the SinFire label “will not cause any likelihood of confusion” among customers.
“Also, there is a crowded field of FIRE marks for various alcoholic beverages,” Peterson wrote. “This further reinforces our client’s position that there is no conflict.”
Sazerac markets Fireball as a whiskey that “Taste Like Heaven. Burns Like Hell” and offers a recipe for the drink the “Fireball Cinn-sation,” a play on the words “sensation,” ‘’cinnamon” and “sin.” Sazerac has sold Fireball since 1999 in Canada and 2007 in the U.S.
The legal issue arose in August when Hood River Distillers filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office regarding SinFire, and gave notice that it planned to market the whiskey starting in February. When negotiation between the attorneys failed, Sazerac sued Hood River Distilleries.
Sazerac, which has been in business since 1869, said it uses the “sin” theme in multiple promotions, including live music and night club acts and in press packets given to reporters and bloggers. The company owns Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown and The Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro.
Liquor companies have been protective of their signature looks. Maker’s Mark is currently locked in a legal battle with competitor Diageo North America over whether the bourbon company holds exclusive rights to the iconic dripping red wax seal on its bottles. Diageo used a similar melted wax seal on a tequila bottle, prompting the suit by Maker’s Mark. A federal judge in Louisville ruled that Maker’s Mark held the copyright on the seal. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is reviewing that decision.
Sazerac’s Fireball Whiskey: http://www.fireballwhisky.com/index.cfm
Hood River Distillers’ Sinfire: http://www.hrdspirits.com/brand_sinfire.cfm