Sazerac Sues SinFire Whisky


Dear Client:

Flavored whiskey is a relatively new category that has gained a lot of steam among consumers. The result is heightened competition among suppliers, with flavors ranging from honey to cherry to vanilla to cinnamon. Now Sazerac is suing Hood River Distillers in a US District Court in Louisville over claims that their SinFire Cinnamon Whisky violates Sazerac's Fireball Whisky trademark.

QUICK BACKGROUND. New Orleans-based Sazerac has sold Fireball cinnamon whisky since 2007 and Fire Water cinnamon liqueur since the early 1990s. Fireball is one of the fastest growing brands right now, up high double-digits. Meanwhile, Oregon-based Hood River is currently rolling out SinFire nationwide with a suggested retail price of $17 a bottle. According to the suit, it is bottled and labeled in Montreal, Canada and Kentucky. A recent press release said SinFire's target audience is men and women aged 21-40.

THE ALLEGATIONS. At issue are Fireball's trade dress and the occasion/consumer demographic that it targets. "The Fireball trademarks, bottle label, and marketing indicia create a commercial impression comprised of flames and burning as well as demon/hell imagery," says the suit. Specifically, it is sold in a clear bottle and the label has an "image of a red fire-breathing devil creature with a serpent-like tongue and flames shooting off the back of its head and a long serpent-like tail."

Furthermore, Fireball "is marketed as a 'challenge shot' or an 'I dare you to try it' category beverage and is accordingly, targeted to the adult demographic who enjoy ordering and drinking these types of beverages."

Sazerac's cinnamon liqueur, Fire Water, is another focal point in the lawsuit because it is sold in a black bottle with images of "red and orange flames," and a "red part dragon, part serpent-like creature breathing fire. The dominant color combination for the product package is black, red, and orange."

Sazerac seems to think that SinFire is a combination of Fireball and Fire Water. SinFire is sold in a clear bottle with "red and orange flames" and a large S "with a serpent-like tongue" on the label. And they believe Hood River "intends to market the SinFire product as a 'challenge shot.'"

In all, Sazerac claims Hood River is intentionally targeting its customer base and that its similar bottles will cause confusion. "The Sinfire Trade Dress is likely to be confused with and mistaken for Sazerac's Fireball Trade Dress due to the shared depictions of fire, demonic creatures, and other graphics suggestive of 'hell' and 'sin' compounded by the dominant color combination of black, red, and orange for the product packaging."

Sazerac is asking the judge to enjoin Hood River from using the SinFire mark and to send a statement to "all media in which the infringing marks had been published, explaining to customers that Defendant and its SinFire mark was not and is not affiliated with or endorsed by Sazerac."

HOOD RIVER RESPONDS. Sazerac's counsel sent a cease and desist letter in December, and Hood River responded on January 12. Their lawyer said SinFire "will not cause any likelihood of confusion among relevant consumers" because "there is a crowded field of fire marks for various alcoholic beverages" and "our client's respective labels are entirely different."

We reached out to Hood River for further comment but did not hear back by press time.


The TTB dodged a bullet from the President's fiscal 2013 budget. The agency is not in danger of being dissolved into the Internal Revenue Service or the Food & Drug Administration as many speculated. In 2013, "TTB will continue to focus its efforts on enforcing compliance with alcohol. in the interest of collecting all appropriate excise taxes, and promoting a marketplace for alcohol beverages that complies fully with federal production, labeling, advertising, and marketing standards," according to the document released by the Treasury. It will however, continue these functions with about 3% less budget of $96,786,000.

To read more background on the topic, click on this link and scroll down to the second story:


SPRING 44 EXPANDS INTO FLORIDA. Colorado-based craft distillery Spring44 will introduce Spring44 vodka, Spring44 Honey Vodka, Spring44 gin into Florida. In addition to Florida the brands are also sold in New York, New Jersey, Colorado and Utah. "We believe that American craft distilled spirits will follow a similar path of success to other categories such as beer, coffee and soda," said Spring44 Distilling chief Jeff Lindauer. "Most importantly, consumers in our initial launch States have demonstrated that they want more interesting, high quality brands and the fact that Spring44 is American-made has truly resonated with our loyal audience."

KAH TEQUILA EXPANDS INTO WISCONSIN. Drinks Americas Holdings, a developer and marketer of beverage products, has appointed General Beverage Sales Company to the Kah Tequila brand in Wisconsin.

LION NATHAN USA CHANGES NAME. The company will be called Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners henceforth. Meanwhile, DV's US wine sales have more than doubled over the past four years. "The evolution of our name best reflects the many facets to our fine wine business including farming, winemaking, and sales," said Steve Myers, managing director of North America.

Until tomorrow, Megan

"There's no secret about success. Did you ever know a successful man who didn't tell you about it?"
Kin Hubbard

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