8 Times People Sued Over Booze


Alcohol can inspire some ridiculous behavior—and we’re not just talking about regrettable tabletop dances. Over the past eight decades, people have gone to court again and again on behalf of their favorite libations. Here are eight of the craziest liquor-laced legal disputes.

1. The Battle for Bacardi

What’s in a name? Quite a bit if that name is Bacardi. In 1936, just three years post-prohibition, the family-owned rum company took legal action against several New York bars and restaurants that were serving so-called Bacardi cocktails using lesser-quality liquor. In the eventual New York Supreme Court case, attorneys for Bacardi brought in Justice John L. Walsh’s own bartender to testify. (He swore he only ever used Bacardi in the judge’s favorite rum cocktails.) Swayed, Walsh ruled that mixing a Bacardi drink without the eponymous rum was “subterfuge and a fraud” on behalf of the consumers.

2. A Dark ‘N Stormy Showdown

Fun fact: a Dark ‘n Stormy isn’t really a Dark ‘n Stormy unless it’s made with ginger beer and—this is the key—Gosling’s Black Seal rum. In the late 1970s, Gosling’s, the manufacturer behind the dark liquor, began trademarking their version of the Dark ‘n Stormy in Bermuda (where the company is based), North America, the Caribbean and across much of Western Europe and Asia. (They forgot about Australia—oops.) To this day, they take their legal claim seriously, going after any rum-producing competitor who dares to suggest that its liquor can be used in the cocktail. (Tweaking the name a little isn't enough to escape their attention: in April, Gosling's went after black rum producer Proximo Spirits for their "Kraken Storm" recipe.) In an interview with The New York Times, company president E. Malcolm Gosling Jr. said they defend the trademark “vigorously, which is a very time-consuming and expensive thing.” 

3. A Major Pain

In 2011, Pusser’s Rum—a company that has trademarked their signature Pusser’s Painkiller libation —filed suit against New York City bar Painkiller. Their complaint: that the popular Lower East Side tiki bar had stolen their name and their drink. (The bar's version of the fruit juice, rum, and cream of coconut cocktail was made without Pusser’s liquor.) In the settlement, the owners of Painkiller agreed to change the bar’s name, abandon the use of the term Painkiller and their namesake drink (unless it was made with Pusser’s rum), and turn over their website domain. Two years later, the newly dubbed PKNY folded up its cocktail umbrellas for good when the owners were unable to renew the bar’s lease. 

4. Wax Off

In 2012, Maker's Mark successfully sued the producers of Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia tequila, claiming the red wax coating atop their bottle deliberately resembled the bourbon brand's trademarked seal and would cause confusion among consumers. Eventually a three-judge panel in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Calling the signature red wax seal an “extremely strong” trademark, the panel ruled that Beam Inc.—the manufacturer of Maker’s Mark—could stop rival alcohol companies from using a similar seal.

5. Partner in crime?

In 2013, five Idaho inmates blamed it on the alcohol by filing a $1 billion lawsuit against several top booze companies. The prisoners—serving time for crimes ranging from grand theft to manslaughter—sued the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller Brewing, and the owner of Jim Beam whiskey, asserting that their products had led them to commit crimes. (Without an attorney, they drafted the litigation themselves.) “I have spent a great deal of that time in prison because of situations that have arose because of people being drunk," convict Jeremy Brown said in his affidavit. "At no time in my life, prior to me becoming an alcoholic, was I ever informed that alcohol was habit forming and addictive." Unfortunately for the prisoners, their suit was thrown out by the judge presiding over the case, who wrote that "…it is commonly known to the public that alcohol poses an obvious danger—encompassing many different subcategories of danger—to those who choose to consume it." 

6. Beer Smear

In 2013, Anheuser-Busch was sued by beer-drinkers across multiple states for allegedly watering down 11 of their beers. (Among the quaffs targeted: Budweiser, Bud Light Platinum, and Black Crown.)  The consumers—who said they received their information from a former Anheuser-Busch employee—claimed the company added water and CO2 in the final stages of the brewing process, lowering the alcohol content by three to eight percent. The beer enthusiasts sought $5 million in damages, plus a court order that would require a corrective advertising campaign. But in 2014 the suit was dismissed when an Ohio judge ruled Anheuser-Busch’s alcohol content was within 0.3 percent of the amount stated on the label—the range required by the Federal Alcohol Administration.

7. Small-town Spirit

A Chicago law firm filed a class action lawsuit against Templeton Rye in September 2014, claiming the Midwest company intentionally misled consumers. Their advertising campaign said that they brewed the craft whiskey in small-town Templeton, Iowa (population: 358), using a Prohibition-era recipe. But in reality the spirit was distilled in a (gasp!) Indiana factory, following directions from a stock recipe. In January, the Des Moines Register reported that the lawsuit was on hold for mediation, signaling a settlement may be forthcoming. In the meantime, the company has announced plans to start printing labels declaring the whiskey is distilled in Indiana and bottled in Iowa. 

8. "The Antithesis of Handmade"

Last September, Tito’s Handmade Vodka faced a similar fate. A class action lawsuit was filed in California, saying the Texas-based distillery cannot possibly be manufacturing the 15 million bottles they sell annually “in an old fashioned pot” as the label claims. "The vodka was made, manufactured and/or produced in massive buildings containing 10 floor-to-ceiling stills and bottling 500 cases an hour using automated machinery that is the antithesis of 'handmade,' “ reads the lawsuit. By May 2015, at least eight class action lawsuits had been filed challenging the company’s use of the term “handmade.”

Today's Wine Glasses Are Almost Seven Times Larger Than They Were in 1700

Holiday party season (a.k.a. hangover season) is in full swing. While you likely have no one to blame but yourself for drinking that second (or third) pour at the office soiree, your glassware isn't doing you any favors—especially if you live in the UK. Vino vessels in England are nearly seven times larger today than they were in 1700, according to a new study spotted by Live Science. These findings were recently published in the English medical journal The BMJ.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge measured more than 400 wineglasses from the past three centuries to gauge whether glass size affects how much we drink. They dug deep into the history of parties past, perusing both the collections of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford and the Royal Household's assemblage of glassware (a new set is commissioned for each monarch). They also scoured a vintage catalog, a modern department store, and eBay for examples.

After measuring these cups, researchers concluded that the average wineglass in 1700 held just 2.2 fluid ounces. For comparison's sake, that's the size of a double shot at a bar. Glasses today hold an average of 15.2 fluid ounces, even though a standard single serving size of wine is just 5 ounces.

BMJ infographic detailing increases in wine glass size from 1700 to 2017
BMJ Publishing group Ltd.

Advances in technology and manufacturing are partly to blame for this increase, as is the wine industry. Marketing campaigns promoted the beverage as it increasingly became more affordable and available for purchase, which in turn prompted aficionados to opt for larger pours. Perhaps not surprisingly, this bigger-is-better mindset was also compounded by American drinking habits: Extra-large wineglasses became popular in the U.S. in the 1990s, prompting overseas manufacturers to follow suit.

Wine consumption in both England and America has risen dramatically since the 1960s [PDF]. Cambridge researchers noted that their study doesn't necessarily prove that the rise of super-sized glassware has led to this increase. But their findings do fit a larger trend: previous studies have found that larger plate size can increase food consumption. This might be because they skew our sense of perception, making us think we're consuming less than we actually are. And in the case of wine, in particular, oversized glasses could also heighten our sensory enjoyment, as they might release more of the drink's aroma.

“We cannot infer that the increase in glass size and the rise in wine consumption in England are causally linked,” the study's authors wrote. “Nor can we infer that reducing glass size would cut drinking. Our observation of increasing size does, however, draw attention to wine glass size as an area to investigate further in the context of population health.”

[h/t Live Science]

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84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
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It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.

A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.

Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.

American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
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With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.

Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.

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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.


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