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Trademark Fight: Michter’s and Pa. Distillery Trade Blows Over ‘Bomberger’s’

The popular whiskey brand Michter’s and an upstart Pennsylvania company are trading blows over who has the rights to use “Bomberger’s.”

I have obtained copies of cease and desist letters, and both sides confirmed they’ve corresponded over the trademark rights in question.

In a recent letter, through legal counsel, the Pennsylvania-based Bomberger’s Distillery suggested Michter’s parent company, Chatham Imports, created consumer confusion with its newly released “Bomberger’s Declaration” bourbon. Bomberger’s Distillery attorney Luke Brean, of BreanLaw LLC, wrote to Chatham’s attorney: “My client and his distributor have come across several instances of actual confusion among retailers that have inquired about the relationship between Bomberger’s Distillery and your client’s Declaration product. … Given the incredible similarity between the marks, your client’s continued advertisement and sale of their Bomberger’s Declaration product is in violation of Mr. {Marc L.} Reber’s {Bomberger Distillery partner} common law trademark rights. To avoid further action, we require you to take immediate steps to cease and desist use of Bomberger’s Declaration or any other confusingly similar mark in the promotion or sale of any products or services under the Bomberger’s Declaration mark and name.”

Brean said Bomberger’s Distillery trademark was applied for on December 13, 2012, and has been “applied for goods” since September 23, 2014. (View the trademark status of Bomberger’s Distillery and Bomberger’s Declaration.)

Owned by Chatham Imports, Michter’s was a Pennsylvania distillery that closed in the late 1980s. The original Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, distillery dates back to 1753 and was once owned by Abe Bomberger, who acquired the facility in the 1860s. The site was called Bomberger’s Distillery long before it became Michter’s. Chatham Imports registered the abandoned  Michter’s trademarks under its company and began bottling Kentucky whiskey. (The Hagley Museum offers great historical summary and papers on Michter’s.)

In a February 27 letter, attorney Peter D. Vogl, of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, defended Chatham and said it cannot agree to stop the use of Bomberger’s Declaration or to withdraw its pending trademark application. Vogl wrote: “Chatham began referencing ‘Bomberger’s’ and using its Bomberger’s Declaration trademark in commerce prior to your client’s alleged first use in commerce date of September 23, 2014.”

Vogl wrote that in order to prevent damage to “Chatham’s rights and avoid consumer confusion,” Bomberger’s Distillery must withdraw its trademark application and cease any use of Bomberger’s Distillery name in connection with distilled spirits, as well as existing or future advertising / marketing in connection to the name. “While Chatham would genuinely like to resolve this matter amicably without initiating a cancellation or court proceeding, it naturally reserves its right to assert any and all rights and remedies with respect to this matter,” Vogl wrote.

Other than confirming the two companies have corresponded, Chatham Imports did not provide comment.

Avianna Ponzi Wolf, co-founder of Bomberger’s Distillery, said Chatham is trying to rip Pennsylvania history away from Pennsylvania through legalese. “If they really wanted to trademark Bomberger’s, they could have done it 30 years ago,” Wolf said. “They just want to take it to Kentucky and in our opinion it does not belong there.”

Wolf admits she does not know the next steps, but adds she’s leaving “that to the lawyers. It’s up to {Chatham} for how far they want to take it.”

 

Fred Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women and Bourbon Curious

Bourbon Spill at Stitzel-Weller

The world is a few barrels short of bourbon today.

This morning, a 350-gallon container of bourbon fell while being loaded onto a truck at Stitzel-Weller, the Diageo-owned facility in Shively, Kentucky. Made famous by Pappy Van Winkle, Stitzel-Weller now serves as a visitor’s center for Diageo’s flagship bourbon brand, Bulleit Bourbon.

According to a Diageo spokesperson, a small amount of the liquid escaped.  “The team on the ground immediately initiated Diageo’s containment procedures and notified the proper authorities, who are satisfied that there is no cause for concern,” Diageo said.

Local TV station WDRB reported no whiskey went into the sewers. Thank goodness.

Former Old Taylor Distillery to Name Woman Its Bourbon Master Distiller

It looks like I’ll need to revise Whiskey Women, where I state Kentucky does not have a female master distiller. According to sources close to the situation, Marianne Barnes will become the master distiller at the new distillery once known as Old Taylor.

Barnes, 28, was formerly the master taster at Brown-Forman and assisted with blending Old Forester.

Brown-Forman has confirmed her departure.

Marianne Barnes will become the new master distiller / head distiller for the former Old Taylor Distillery.

Marianne Barnes will become the new master distiller / head distiller for the former Old Taylor Distillery.

She was the lead blender for the special release Old Forester Whiskey Row 1870 Original Batch. A rising star in the distilling business, Barnes, a chemical engineer from the University of Louisville, said she was considering two internships—one for a renewable energy company and the other for Brown-Forman. She told me in a Whisky Advocate interview last year: “I was thinking about all the different things I can make with corn and thought: ‘Why make fuel when you can make bourbon?’”

During the Whiskey Row 1870 launch, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester master distiller Chris Morris told reporters: “This is the first bourbon blended by a woman in the modern era.”

Although several female craft bourbon distillers would dispute that claim, Morris’ well-intended point was likely Kentucky-specific and illustrated his confidence in Barnes. She was listed in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Profile and featured in CNBC’s Dream Job segment. Barnes became a media darling, but her engineering mind is even more impressive.

She joins Maker’s Mark’s Victoria MacRae-Samuels, VP of Operations, and Michter’s Pamela Heilmann, VP of production, as the highest-ranking ladies in bourbon production. But Barnes, whose title has not been confirmed, will likely become Kentucky’s first female master / head distiller since Prohibition.

Her new distillery home is the former Old Taylor facility in Woodford County—known for its castle structure—that will be renamed and is currently under renovation. The current Whisky Advocate issue contains details on the multi-million renovation.

As for its new distiller, I’ve spent a great deal of time with Barnes, and she’s the most-impressive young production mind I’ve ever met. I’m eager to see what she will accomplish in her new role. And of course, when I talk about Whiskey Women, I can say Kentucky finally has a true female master distiller.

It’s about time.

 

 

Fred Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women.

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Barrels Rye, Plans Wheated Bourbon

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience barreled its first rye last week.

The downtown Louisville visitor’s attraction also serves as a small distillery with the capacity to fill one barrel a day. When the barrels are filled, the center’s parent company, Heaven Hill Brands, ships them to its Bardstown, Ky., warehouses.

I tasted the rye New Make, but a cold disrupted my keen tasting senses. So, sorry, no tasting notes.

The mash bill is 53% rye, 35% corn and 12% malted barley, a recipe unique to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. In addition to the traditional bourbon and rye, the EWBE is planning a wheated bourbon.

The first barrel of Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Rye.

The first barrel of Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Rye.

The company said it will bottle when the product meets taste expectations and limited quantities will only be sold in the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.

 

Fred Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women and Bourbon Curious

Former Balcones distiller Chip Tate Headlines Upcoming Events

I’m excited to announce February events that include some major headliners, including former Balcones master distiller Chip Tate and Buffalo Trace master distiller Harlen Wheatley.

Kentucky Derby Museum, Louisville, Ky., February 5 – As part of the ongoing Legends Series, I’m hosting Buffalo Trace master distiller Harlen Wheatley. In the journalistic-style event, I ask pertitent, sometimes difficult, questions and we sip some good whiskey. At this one, we’ll be tasting George T. Stagg and Eagle Rare 17-year-old, among others. Buy tickets here.

Carnegie Center for Literacy, Lexington, Ky., February 10 – I’m excited to be apart of the center’s “Kentucky Great Writers Series.” I’ll be signing books and chatting whiskey. For more information, visit the website.

Arizona Cocktail Week, Scottsdale, Arizona, February 15 – I’m presenting at the prestigious Arizona Cocktail week and will be interviewing some important whiskey women. Buy tickets here.

Bourbon Classic, Louisville, February 20-21 – One again, I’m the MC for the main panel at this fun bourbon soirée. On this panel, former Balcones master distiller Chip Tate makes his first public appearance since he lost control of the distillery he founded. I’m also participating in a Glencairin tasting seminar. But tickets here.

WhiskyLive, New York, February 25 – I’ll be discussing whiskey with anybody with a set of ears. Buy tickets here.

So, come on out and let’s have a whiskey. Cheers!

 

Fred Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women and Bourbon Curious