Sipp’n Corn Opinion: Sazerac Tries to Erase History by Suing the Owner of the Historic Old Taylor Distillery.
When George T. Stagg and Col. Edmund H. Taylor, Jr. parted ways effective January 1, 1887, Col. Taylor left behind the O.F.C. and Carlisle distilleries. After many changes in ownership and names, that property is now Buffalo Trace, owned by Sazerac. Col. Taylor, in the meantime, built the monument of a distillery known ever since as “The Old Taylor Distillery” in Millville, Kentucky. The Old Taylor Distillery closed in 1972, but it kept its name (including the sign), and it certainly kept its spirit and legendary status. While the brand name “Old Taylor” was bought and sold, eventually winding up with Sazerac, and the whiskey was made elsewhere, the property always remained The Old Taylor Distillery.
After decades of falling into serious disrepair, as noted in an earlier post and countless other articles, Peristyle LLC and Master Distiller Marianne Barnes came to its rescue and have been in the process of returning The Old Taylor Distillery to its former glory. The new entrepreneurs were very careful to not call their business “The Old Taylor Distillery,” likely because Sazerac was claiming rights to the Taylor brand name. A geographic location, however, does not follow a brand name that is bought and sold.
This week, months of negotiations and proceedings before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board came crashing down with Sazerac’s filing of a federal lawsuit against Peristyle. In its new lawsuit, Sazerac claims that it owns the trademarks “Old Taylor” and “Col. E. H. Taylor,” and that Peristyle is offering “event-hosting services” using Sazerac’s brands “and confusingly similar variations thereof.”
But all Sazerac could point to in its Compliant is Peristyle’s use of the true geographic name of the property – a name Sazerac could not bring itself to mention. In fact, when referring in the Complaint to the historic site known as “The Old Taylor Distillery,” Sazerac ignored that name, and instead called it the “Frankfort Distillery.” The only time Sazerac used the real name of the property in its Complaint was when it included a photograph showing the old sign still standing above the front door:
Sazerac should know that “The Old Taylor Distillery” is the name of the property, and that using a historically accurate geographic name is allowed. In the 1880’s, a former ward and protégé of Col. Taylor, James E. Pepper, tried to prevent Labrot & Graham from using “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery” as the name of the distillery that is now Woodford Reserve. The case of Pepper v. Labrot, 8 F. 29 (C.C.D. Ky. 1881) describes how the distillery built by Oscar Pepper in 1838 became known as the “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.” Oscar Pepper died in June 1865, and the distillery was leased to Gaines, Berry & Co. (a partnership that included Col. Taylor), and the distillery continued to be known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.
James gained control of the distillery, but lost it in bankruptcy, and the property was acquired by Labrot & Graham, which continued to call it the “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.” James sued Labrot & Graham because he believed that only he should be able to use the “Pepper” name. Labrot & Graham won the case, however, because they owned what was actually called the “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.” The court ruled that reference to “Old Oscar Pepper’s Distillery” meant the place of production, and was not a trademark.
Here, Sazerac seems to be attempting exactly what James Pepper failed to do – it’s trying to lay claim to all of Col. Taylor’s history and anything named after him. While Col. Taylor certainly made a lasting impression with the O.F.C., he failed there in 1877. It was after he moved to The Old Taylor Distillery that he became truly legendary through the passage of the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897 and through the brand he built at his castle. That history cannot be suppressed by Sazerac.
My posts have recounted over 100 years of litigation between Kentucky Bourbon distillers, but there has also been a tremendous history of cooperation. Bringing life back to an important, historic distillery, such as The Old Taylor Distillery, is one of those occasions when producers should have banded together and cheered on Peristyle. Sazerac took the bully approach instead, and should be ashamed for trying to erase history.