United States: Scotch Jedi: American Whiskey Isn't Going Down Smooth

Global whiskey association suit is inspired in part by one nerd's work

The Way We Were

Time was, excessive enthusiasm for Star Wars, Middle Earth and other invented worlds was the demesne of the stereotypical geek ‒ someone who learned Klingon, or dressed oddly at conventions, or drank too much Mountain Dew in D&D sessions.

Alcohol, on the other hand, was for the cool kids ‒ from the jocks and cheerleaders standing around the high-school party keg to their more evolved brethren ordering cocktails over business lunches.

Then, everything changed. The movie version of The Lord of the Rings became a mega franchise; science fiction, fantasy and superhero sagas became something anyone could watch without being shoved into a locker; jocks took up World of Warcraft without hesitation; and 20 million people watched the final episode of Game of Thrones.

But just as hobbits became hip, something else was happening ‒ a transformation just as profound but perhaps less-well noted: People started geeking out over alcohol.

Sure, there have always been spirit geeks, but their circle wasn't much larger than the community of manufacturers themselves. In the '90s, however, beer and wine geek culture exploded into the mainstream and never looked back. Homebrewing became legal in all 50 states, Sideways was an indie sensation and the once-esoteric language of wine appreciation ("bubbly ... yet civilized, with fruity overtones") became the way beer nerds talked about beer.

Hybrid Geek

So it's no surprise that a Frankenstein-nerd like Scotch Trooper has been assembled by our present-day culture. Scotch Trooper is the nom-de-nerd of photographer Brett Ferencz, who has made a name in whiskey-aficionado circles by staging intricate and, yes, beautiful photos of Star Wars action figures interacting with whiskey accoutrements (bottles, glasses, labels). Go check out his Instagram account; it's all very clever and clearly the work of a pro.

Scotch Trooper's nerdy blend of enthusiasms earned him the ultimate seal of influencer approval: the branded tie-in. The Virginia Distillery Company, an old-school distillery whose carefully crafted, wood-grain-and-sepia-toned identity is decidedly uncheeky, went out on a limb and created the "Scotch Trooper Cask" specialty product: a whiskey with "nuanced character with notes of raspberry, mocha and baking spices." (No one can just say "smooth" anymore.)

The bottle has a Star Wars stormtrooper mask emblazoned on the side, and its name is written in "Star Wars" font.

Now, at this point, you're probably expecting us to tell you how Scotch Trooper found himself on the business end of a trademark infringement suit. But that's not what happened.

The Takeaway

Instead, a darker, more powerful, more eerie force than any Sith Lord descended from the Caledonian mists: The Scotch Whisky Association, a mystical order that roams the galaxy defending the branding of its homeland's most iconic export. The SWA, as it is known, was not pleased with the use of the word "Scotch" on the Scotch Trooper Cask label. Or any of the Virginia Distillery's "false, misleading, and deceptive labelling" of its whisky products, which, according to the SWA, unfairly associate the goods with Scotland.

The federal government has stringent labeling requirements for Scotch, which the SWA invoked in the suit it filed in Delaware federal court back in early July. In the words of the complaint: "The Code of Federal Regulations provide that the words 'Scotch', 'Scots', 'Highland' or 'Highlands' and similar words connoting, indicating or commonly associated with Scotland, shall not be used to designate any product not wholly produced in Scotland."

The problem, the SWA maintains, is that the Virginia Distillery product line is "comprised of unknown percentages of various whiskies that are mixed together with the resulting product further aged in Virginia for a period of up to one year."

The Scotch Whisky Association is suing the Virginia Distillery Company for unfair competition and false advertising under the Lanham Act, deceptive trade practices under Delaware law, and common law unfair competition.

We'll let you know what develops. But first ‒ if you don't mind ‒ we're going to kick back our recliner, crack a Schlitz and watch Labyrinth.

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