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.