Craft distiller wins dismissal of misleading label suit over where the whiskey was distilled and the source of the water used in proofing.
Widow Jane Distillery makes whiskey. Before 2018 some of the bottles looked like this:
That pre-2018 label included these phrases: (1) “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey Aged 7 Years In American Oak” and (2) “Pure Limestone Mineral Water From the Widow Jane Mine – Rosendale, NY.”
After 2018 their labels looked like this on the front:
And looked like this on the back:
The post 2018 labels contained the following statements: (1) “Pure Limestone Mineral Water From the Legendary Rosendale Mines of NY,” (2) “Hand assembled in Brooklyn using the richest and rarest straight bourbons … non-chill filtered & proofed with our own mineral water from the legendary Rosendale Mines of NY,” and (3) “KY, TN, IN Bourbon Bottled by Widow Jane Distillery Brooklyn, NY.
The plaintiff purchased a pre-2018 bottle and sued asserting the label was misleading because the pre-2018 bottle was distilled in Kentucky, the mineral water was added to proof the whiskey not used in brewing and distillation, and the water wasn’t directly from the mine but was from a nearby source.
Plaintiff sought to represent a class of purchasers. The distillery moved to dismiss the claims and a federal court has agreed with its contentions that the plaintiff doesn’t have a case, issuing this opinion and finding for the distillery.
In brief, here is the reasoning:
Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer would have been misled by Widow Jane’s labeling. Plaintiff’s theory that the labels misleadingly suggested that Widow Jane was distilled in New York is belied by the text of the labels. The pre-update label described Widow Jane as “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey.” A reasonable consumer would not conclude that a product bearing such a label was distilled in New York.
Plaintiff’s second theory — that the labels were misleading concerning the manner in which limestone water was used in Widow Jane — is no more persuasive. Plaintiff contends that the label misleadingly suggested that New York mineral water was used in the distillation of the Kentucky whiskey. The Widow Jane that [Plaintiff] purchased was labeled not only with the prominent display of the words “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey,” but also with the phrase “Pure Limestone Mineral Water From the Widow Jane Mine – Rosendale, NY.” Nowhere did the label assert that such water was used in the distillation of Widow Jane. The Complaint alleges that [Plaintiff] interpreted the label “to mean that Widow Jane bourbon contained pure limestone mineral water from the Widow Jane Mine and that it was made in New York.” But — as the Complaint itself acknowledges — Widow Jane did contain limestone mineral water from New York, and it was bottled in New York.
That leaves only plaintiff’s third theory, that the label was misleading as to the source of the mineral water, which in fact came not from the Widow Jane Mine but from a nearby location. While the pre-update label’s reference to “Water From the Widow Jane Mine” was misleading, it was not misleading “in a material way,” as is required for liability under [the relevant false advertising statute]. The Complaint contains no allegations that explain why a reasonable consumer would consider it material that the limestone water came from within the Widow Jane Mine boundaries rather than from another nearby source. In fact, plaintiff alleges that the addition of post-distillation limestone water was “meaningless and inconsequential.” There is thus no reason to think that the precise source of such limestone water would be material. Accordingly, plaintiff has not stated a claim under [the relevant false advertising statute].
This is a good win for distilleries and potentially a decent case to cite in similar suits where the label text isn’t necessarily the misleading factor, but rather, the interpretation of that text – an overlay – that is added which creates the alleged misimpression.