Sazerac, Kentucky Distillers' Assn. reach settlement in lawsuit over use of 'Kentucky Bourbon Trail' phrase in promotions for central Kentucky distilleries

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky , November 17, 2011 () – The legal battle over the "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" has ended in a settlement.

Sazerac Co. and the Kentucky Distillers' Association announced Thursday that they've reached a confidential agreement over the phrase used in promotions for central Kentucky distilleries, just six weeks before the case was set for trial in U.S. District Court in Louisville.

The distillers' association sued New Orleans-based Sazerac in May 2010, accusing the company of violating the trademarks on the phrase "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" and logos by using similar phrases and designs in promoting two central Kentucky distilleries not affiliated with the association.

Sazerac countersued, asking a judge to cancel the association's trademarks on the "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" phrase, saying the group abandoned legal claims by not seeking to protect it.

Kentucky Distillers' Association President Eric Gregory said the organization looks forward to "promoting our signature industry's rich history to visitors from around the world."

"Sazerac's three Kentucky distilleries, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery and The Glenmore Distillery look forward to continue developing their distillery tours along the bourbon trail," said Meredith Moody, marketing service director for Sazerac.

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 violated the existing trademarks related to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a cluster of distilleries in central Kentucky.

Sazerac — which owns Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, the 1792 Distillery in Bardstown (which used to be known as Tom Moore Distillery) and Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro — was once a member of the Kentucky Distillers' Association, but resigned from the nonprofit, Frankfort-based group in December 2009 after being unable to settle the dispute over the trademarks.

The Buffalo Trace website on Thursday featured a map linking that distillery with the "Trace Tour," which gives details about the distillery and visiting the complex. The 1792 Distillery web page on Thursday included a description of a tour. Neither page made mention of being on the "Kentucky Bourbon Trail."

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was created more than a decade ago to help draw tourists to the eight featured distilleries (now 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 of production from start to finish. They see clear whiskey — called "white dog" — come off the still.

Gregory said there are currently 4.7 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky warehouses, "which means we have more barrels of bourbon than people living in Kentucky — 4.3 million." Production has increased by more than 50 percent since 1999, from 455,078 barrels to 786,778 barrels in 2010.

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.

Members of the Kentucky Distillers' Association are Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Brown-Forman, Diageo North America, Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey.

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