Lost Prophet or the Beginning of a Sourced Whiskey War?


November 19, 2014

The Sazerac Company is considering legal action against Diageo for using one of its trademarks—George T. Stagg—in the marketing of its latest Orphan Barrel release “Lost Prophet,” a spokesperson for the company told me.

In the product announcement, Diageo says Lost Prophet “was distilled in 1991 in Frankfort, Ky., at what was then the George T. Stagg Distillery and found in the old Stitzel-Weller Warehouses in Louisville, Ky. The whiskey is hand-bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.”

Sazerac said: “Our attorneys are reviewing the situation since it is obvious Diageo is attempting to trade on our reputation to promote its Lost Prophet Whiskey.”

Lost ProfitDo they have a case? And is Diageo really taking advantage of their reputation or just disclosing history?

In September, at the new Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller, Diageo’s Guy Smith told me: “We’d never encroach on another brand. Whatever we do will be tasteful and historically accurate.”

No doubt, Diageo will align themselves with history as much as they can to promote their products. After all, Pappy Van Winkle, the hottest brand in bourbon, built Stitzel-Weller. They are also sitting on a treasure trove of history in the Stitzel-Weller archives.

But I view the use of George T. Stagg differently than the use of Pappy Van Winkle. Diageo has never publicly disclosed where Bulleit Bourbon is distilled, while they build the new distillery. They’re certainly respecting the confidentiality agreement they have with the contract distiller, so why not respect the George T. Stagg trademark?

On the other hand, they own the whiskey. It’s been sitting in their warehouses. Do they not have the right to promote where it came from?

As I ask these questions, genuinely looking for answers and not taking sides either way, this issue has potential to transcend the concerns of two companies. If this goes to court, we could have legal precedent that keeps sourced whiskey bottlers from disclosing whiskey origins. In addition, Diageo could file countersuit against Sazerac for its use of Stitzel-Weller in marketing Pappy Van Winkle; and we could have the beginnings of an all-out legal war between two behemoths that will dictate what you know about the whiskey you’re drinking.

I, for one, don’t want that. I want to know where my whiskey comes from.

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