Cook County Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Two more liquor makers hit with class action complaints over marketing

By Andrew Thomason | Nov 7, 2014

Tincup 150x150

The tab for liquor producers who allegedly make false claims about the nature of their product could jump up by at least $10 million.

Mario Aliano and Due Fratelli Inc., a business involved in selling liquor, filed two class action lawsuits Oct. 28 in the Cook County Circuit Court against two different liquor producers, claiming Kentucky-based Louisville Distilling Co. and New Jersey-based Proximo Spirits Inc. use deceptive marketing to sell some of their whiskey brands.

These two suits come on the heels of a similar complaint the same plaintiffs brought Oct. 7 against the makers of Tito's Handmade Vodka. In all three suits, Aliano and Due Fratelli are represented by Chicago attorneys Thomas A. Zimmerman Jr., Adam M. Tamburelli and Frank Stretz of Zimmerman Law Offices P.C.

Both of the recently-filed complaints state that at this time, the plaintiffs are not seeking a specific amount of damages (punitive, monetary and/or injunctive) and attorney's fees that combined would exceed $5 million, not including costs and interest.

In their suit against Louisville Distilling Co., the plaintiffs contend the company lied when it claimed its Angel’s Envy bourbon whiskey is “small batch” and unique in its marketing materials, including on its website.

“Rooted in 200 years of bourbon heritage, we create artisan, hand finished spirits … Everyone says they’re small batch. We mean it,” states a page on Angel’s Envy’s website that describes how it produces its products. Angel’s Envy bolsters its small batch claim by adding that its products could be “a little harder to find” than most brands.

The image created by Angel’s Envy, however, is nothing more than a marketing scheme to trick consumers into paying more for what is otherwise a commonplace product, according to Aliano and Due Fratelli.

Angel’s Envy is produced by mega-distiller MGP Ingredients Inc. in Lawrenceburg, Ind. MGP distills and sells large batches of rye whiskey, bourbon, whiskey, gin and vodka. In Angel’s Envy’s case, Louisville Distilling Co. buys MGP standard rye whiskey in bulk.

“The only activities that occur in Kentucky are transferring the rye to rum barrels and filling the Angel’s Envy bottles," the suit alleges. "The recipe for the unaged whiskey purchased by Defendant for eventual resale as Angel’s Envy is not property of the Defendant nor is it produced in small batches. Indeed the 95% rye mash bill recipe is for sale on MGP’s website."

The plaintiffs assert that consumers are willing to pay more for products that claim to be small batch because that is an indication of uniqueness and quality. Furthermore, they contend the defendant knew this and exploited it to make money.

In their suit, Aliano and Due Fratelli are asking the court to make Louisville Distilling Co. stop its current marketing practices regarding Angel’s Envy. They also want the defendant to forfeit any profits it made through the allegedly deceptive marketing practices.

The plaintiffs' claims against Proximo Spirits Inc. focus on its Tincup American Whiskey. Like the Louisville Distilling Co. suit, Aliano and Due Fratelli claim Proximo Spirits portrays its product as unique, local and artisan when in reality, it is none of those things.

Like Angel’s Envy, Tincup American Whiskey is distilled by MGP in Indiana. It is then shipped by MGP to Proximo Spirits to be bottled in Colorado, where the liquor claims to be from, according to the suit.

Pictures included in the complaint show Tincup American Whiskey’s bottle, which has “Colorado” written in large letters on the bottle, as well as the words “Elevation 5,657.” This branding, the plaintiffs contend, is intended to allow Proximo Spirits to charge more for Tincup American Whiskey because consumers assume it’s a unique regional product.

Like its other suit, Aliano and Due Fratelli want a court to order Proximo Spirits to stop how it brands and markets Tincup American Whiskey, as well as forfeit any profits it made through the allegedly deceptive marketing practices.

Less than a month before Aliano and Due Fratelli filed these two suits, they sued the maker of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Like its most recent spat of lawsuits, their Oct. 7 lawsuit claims that Tito’s Handmade Vodka is anything but, produced in a facility that can churn out 500 cases of vodka an hour, or 850,000 cases per year.

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