Pusser’s Rum Issues a Statement

Pusser’s, the British Virgin Islands rum brand that sued Painkiller, a New York bar, over its name and namesake drink, has issued a statement after incurring the wrath of bartenders and liquor bloggers all over the U.S.

Founder and CEO Charles Tobias seemed blindsided by the volume of criticism and took pains to represent his brand as just another little guy. “We’ve been made out to be the bad guys, a giant bully towering over the little guys at PKNY. Nothing could be further from the truth. We ship about 30,000 cases annually. By comparison, sales of Bacardi and Captain Morgan in the U.S. are 9,400,000 and 6,200,000 respectively.”

I don’t remember anyone calling them a giant company, but I did tweet that they were acting like Bacardi.

Bartenders—and cocktail aficionados mixing at home—may make a Painkiller with Pusser’s rum because they think it tastes good. This may also be true for Gosling’s rum in a Dark & Stormy. But to go after them if they try serving it with another brand? Let the public decide. Tobias writes, “Years ago, we ran tests that showed by a large majority that people preferred a Painkiller made with Pusser’s Rum over the other popular rums that we tested.” If this is true, why sue? Clearly, people like your product, and they like it in a Painkiller. Promote that, reinforce that in a positive way. Don’t punish your customers. In fact, if you want to protect the trademark, if you must resort to lawsuits, go after other rum companies if they promote Painkillers with their rums.

But again, most bartenders will probably disagree with their very notion of trademarking a cocktail. It goes against the spirit of sharing, experimentation, and individual tastes that makes the cocktail world so exciting right now.

“We did not ask for damages, or any kind of monetary remuneration; all we wanted was for PKNY to use Pusser’s Rum in their Painkiller,” Tobias continues. But is it not true that Pusser’s also forced the bar to change its name from Painkiller to PKNY? That’s the real insult to the cocktail community. Forcing them to use your rum in a drink—the bar’s namesake drink—just seems petty, but making them change their name is ridiculous.

“We wish [PKNY owners] Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato great success with their venture, and hopefully in the near future we will be working with them on the common goal of increasing the success of our two businesses,” Tobias concludes. Really? You think that after that, they’ll want to work with you? The fact that they ignored (at their own peril) your legal overtures for a year should be a good indicator that they won’t want to work with you—ever.

And I don’t either. I guess I have a better idea where Pusser’s is coming from after reading Tobias’s letter: they are light-years away from the mindset of your average cocktail drinker. There are a lot of rums out there. Way to differentiate yourself, Pusser’s.

To read Charles Tobias’s full statement, visit the Pusser’s website.

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2 Responses to Pusser’s Rum Issues a Statement

  1. Brian says:

    couple of thoughts:

    1) why can you trademark a cocktail but not a fragrance? can you trademark a (food) recipe?
    2) Pusser’s should have handled this completely the opposite way – rather than clamping down and telling them what they shouldn’t do, they should have infiltrated them with tons of marketing swag, co-branded marketing funds, etc. Get on their good side and stay there. Get the bar and its patrons to become loyalists. 🙂

    • I wondered about food recipes too. Ultimately, I think it’s the name of the recipe that’s being trademarked, which would mean that fragrances are being trademarked. The big difference (and this is why I write about cocktails more often than fragrances) is that regular people can mix and create cocktails with relative ease. Not nearly as true with fragrances. Which may be why fragrance brands like By Kilian aren’t afraid to post fragrance recipes on their web page. Many other bloggers have written about the specifics of the whole trademark aspect (and scolded the rest of us for conflating trademarks, copyrights, and patents).

      And I totally agree that Pusser’s should have taken the opposite approach. What is it with rum companies? Seriously: Pusser’s and Gosling’s both trademarked cocktails and go after bars for serving them ‘wrong.’ And don’t get me started about Bacardi. Maybe it’s something about the Caribbean. Now I won’t drink Pusser’s. I will actually go out of my way to avoid it. And I don’t care how good Gosling’s tastes with ginger beer, I resent them telling me that’s the only way to make a Dark & Stormy.

      I see Pusser’s as a small company that’s desperately trying to gain a foothold in the U.S., and maybe because of its isolation, taking two approaches that don’t make sense to the cocktail world: first, they’re trying market the Painkiller as a pre-made mix and as a canned alcoholic drink; second, instead of paying for good marketing and a brand ambassador, they hired lawyers. Mean ones. Wow. What a fuck up.

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