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Distillers' Group Sues Sazerac

Tue, 05/04/2010 - 4:37am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Buffalo Trace and Tom Moore distilleries may be near the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but if the Kentucky Distillers' Association gets its way, they won't be able to promote the location.

The association claims in a lawsuit that New Orleans-based Sazerac Co. is violating the trademarks on the phrase "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" and logos by using similar phrases and designs in promoting two central Kentucky distilleries.

The association sued Sazerac in U.S. District Court in Louisville on Monday asking a judge to halt Sazerac's use of the phrase and requests for trademarks on similar phrases.

The Distillers' Association holds four trademarks on "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" and logo designs and uses them in promotional materials.

Sazerac owns Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort and Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown, which makes the bourbon brand, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers' Association, said in a statement that if Sazerac is allowed to use the "Bourbon Trail" phrase, the association's trademark would be worthless, Gregory said.

"Any business — including any other state — could claim that they were part of the Bourbon Trail, or create their own Bourbon Trail that would conflict and confuse visitors," Gregory said.

A message left for Sazerac spokeswoman Angela Traver was not immediately returned Monday.

The dispute started in summer of 2009, when Sazerac applied for a trademark and copyright on the phrase "Buffalo Trace Distillery on the Bourbon Trail" and "Tom Moore Distillery on the Bourbon Trail."

The Distillers' Association claims those proposed trademarks violate the existing trademarks related to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a cluster of distilleries in central Kentucky.

Sazerac was once a member of the association, but resigned from the Kentucky Distillers' Association in January after being unable to settle the dispute over the trademarks.

In an e-mail dated Feb. 1 and attached to the lawsuit, Sazerac President Mark Brown said the company doesn't plan to violate the association's trademarks.

"However, we will continue to use the public domain phrases 'the Bourbon Trail' and 'the Trail' to describe the location of our Buffalo Trace and Tom Moore distilleries as permitted by federal trademark law," Brown wrote.

The Buffalo Trace website features a map linking that distillery with the "Trace Tour," which gives details about the distillery and visiting the complex. The Tom Moore Distillery web page, which was still under construction, includes a map showing where the distillery is near Bardstown.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was created more than a decade ago to help draw tourists to the eight featured distilleries, but now includes six — Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Heaven Hill distilleries. Since its creation, more than 1.5 million visits have been made to the distilleries, with visitors from all 50 states and 25 different counties.

Visitors along the trail get a glimpse into production from start to finish. They see clear whiskey — called "white dog" — come off the still.

Kentucky produces more than 95 percent of the world's bourbon. Production has doubled since 1999 — from 455,078 barrels to 937,865 barrels in 2007, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. About 4.5 million barrels of bourbon were aging in Kentucky at the end of 2007, it said.

To earn the name, bourbon must be made in the United States, contain at least 51 percent corn in the mash and be distilled at 160 proof or less. It then goes into the barrels at 125 proof or less for at least two years of aging.

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