Beam Suntory fights ‘frivolous’ lawsuit attacking Jim Beam bourbon's handcrafted credentials

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Rodrigo Amorim/Flickr
Photo: Rodrigo Amorim/Flickr

Related tags: Bourbon whiskey, Jim beam, Plaintiff

Beam Suntory insists it will fight a US class action filed last week accusing the company of deceptive advertising for describing San Diego’s Jim Beam bourbon as ‘handcrafted’.

In a filing last week in the US District Court, Southern District of California, Scott Welk et al. complain that the company promotes Jim Beam bourbon as handcrafted “when in fact defendants’ bourbon is manufactured using mechanized and/or automated processes, resembling a modern day assembly line and involving little to no human supervision, assistance or involvement”.

But Clarkson Hine, senior VP corporate communications and public affairs, told today: “This claim is frivolous. We will defend our case vigorously and we are confident that we will prevail. 

“Beyond that, as a matter of company policy, we don’t comment on the details of matters in litigation,”​ he added.(Beam Suntory is also fighting off a similar action, filed in December, relating to Maker’s Mark bourbon.)

“This claim is frivolous. We will defend our case vigorously and we are confident that we will prevail.​" Clarkson Hine, senior VP corporate communications and public affairs, Beam Suntory

Welk argues, or rather his lawyers do, that photos and diagrams on the Jim Beam website show that the brand uses mechanization or automation to produce and bottle the bourbon, which is a flag bearer for the booming US bourbon category as the best-selling brand of Kentucky bourbon globally.

Namely to (1) grind/break up the grains (2) mix the grains with ingredients such as yeast or water (3) transfer this mixture into its fermenting location, and (4) bottle the bourbon.

The claimants take exception to videos on the Jim Beam site including the ‘Jim Beam American Stillhouse Tour’, ‘Jim Beam Tour’ and ‘Thrillist Hits the American Stillhouse’.

'Handcrafted Since 1795' - A war over words​...

The suit notes that the classic Jim Beam side label touts the fact that the product has been ‘Handcrafted Since 1795’, with the words ‘Family Recipe’ underneath.

“Defendants’ attach these untrue and misleading labels to all of the white label bourbon bottles they market and sell throughout the state of California and throughout the United States,”​ Welk adds.

Jim Beam 2

Claiming breaches of Caifornia’s False Advertising Law, Business and Professional Code and Unfair Competition law, his suit also alleges negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation, and calls for injunctive relief and the payment of damages.

This is because, the suit alleges, consumers associate the terms ‘handcrafted’ and ‘handmade’ with higher quality manufacturing and high-end products that fetch premium prices.

Since Jim Beam bourbon bottles include ‘handcrafted’ in a large-sized font on the side of bottles, this is done in an “apparent attempt to market the bourbon as being of a higher quality by virtue of it being made by hand”​, Welk complains.

Suit slams significant price premium for 'handcrafted' product

“In the case of a 1.75l bottle of bourbon, similar to the ones defendants manufacture and sell, the price per bottle can be as low as $13.49. Whereas defendants’ purportedly ‘handcrafted’ 1.75l bottle of bourbon is listed at $33.99,”​ he adds.

Jim Beam 3
Filling barrels with Jim Beam. The class action alleges that this is just one process that shows mechanization, and debunks Beam Suntory's claim that the bourbon is handcrafted.

“Had [the] plaintiff and other consumers similarly situated been made aware that Jim Beam Bourbon was not ‘handcrafted’ they would not have purchased the product, or would have paid less for it, or purchased different products,”​ the plaintiff states.

As a consequence the suit alleges that the plaintiff and his class purchased “thousands, if not millions of bottles of Jim Beam”​ and have suffered and continue to suffer injury as a consequence – namely the loss of money and/or property.

The action then rehearses the Jim Beam production process (with diagrams and photos of the distilling process) to try and debunk Beam Suntory’s claim that ‘creating the world’s #1 bourbon requires skilled craftsmen and a whole lot of patience’.

“Plaintiff alleges defendants’ manufacturing process is mostly, if not entirely, mechanized and/or automated, requiring little to no human supervision, assistance or involvement, let alone ‘skilled craftsmen’,”​ Welk alleges.

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