‘Large Company’ ordered craft distiller to change name


October 19, 2015

Facing legal pressure from a “large corporation,” Bourbon County’s The Gentleman Distillery has changed its name to Hartfield & Company.

Andrew Buchanan changed the name of his distillery to Hartfield & Co., a family distilling name dating back to the 1800s. It was The Gentleman Distillery.
Andrew Buchanan changed the name of his distillery to Hartfield & Co., a family distilling name dating back to the 1800s. It was The Gentleman Distillery.

Founder Andrew Buchanan would not name the company, but the lawyer said to surrender all TTB approvals and stop any business under the Gentleman Distillery name. “He said {Gentleman Distillery} infringed upon trademarks they owned,” Buchanan said.

Sazerac owns the trademarks Kentucky Gentleman and Virginia Gentleman, Gentleman-named American whiskey products. I queried Sazerac for comment about whether it sent the cease-and-desist letter. A spokesperson said the company has a “couple of hundred” active cease-and-desist orders, and that it does not comment on litigation matters. The spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied the letter.

Brown-Forman owns the rights to Gentleman Jack, but the company told me it did not send a cease-and-desist letter to the Gentleman Distillery. (The original version of this story did not mention Gentleman Jack.)

For Buchanan, this marks the second time he’s changed the name of his new distillery, the first in Bourbon County since Prohibition. He originally planned to name it the Bourbon County Distillery, but a fellow Paris, Ky., resident applied for state approvals before him. Buchanan decided to name it “The Gentleman Distillery.”

In this latest matter, Buchanan considered fighting and was advised he could win, but realized he couldn’t afford $250,000 in legal fees.

“We were just about to release the bourbon. The letter was well timed. They knew we were about to enter bourbon marketplace and they were trying to stop us from using that name,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan thinks there’s something bigger at play. He believes the craft distillers are putting public pressure on the larger distillers and that they will not allow the same momentum in whiskey that happened in beer. (Read: Budweiser mocks craft beer.)

“There’s this feeling amongst the craft distillers that the big distilleries aren’t going to let this happen as easily as big beer did. They need to defend their trademarks, but they seem to be very aware that we can take 5% of marketplace,” Buchanan says.

Meanwhile, Buchanan’s new distillery name Hartfield & Company is a family name on his father’s side. The Hartfields were bourbon distillers in the 1800s in Green County, Kentucky.

As for the greater significance of this story, the bourbon business has a history of sending cease-and-desist letters to anybody who even remotely infringes upon their trademarks. Use a dripping wax on an alcohol product and just see how long it takes Maker’s Mark to send a letter, or create a bottle that looks remotely similar to Woodford Reserve and Brown-Forman lawyers come a knocking. Of course, there’s always the famous dispute between Sazerac and the Kentucky Distillers Association over the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Long story short, there have been thousands of these kinds of stories, which is why I dedicated significant space to bourbon lawsuits in Bourbon Curious.

But you can’t help but feel for Buchanan and other smaller distilleries, such as Wilderness Trace, which had to change its name to Wilderness Trail. Their efforts should be put forth operating a still, not dealing with lawyers. Something tells me that this is just the beginning, though.