I was due to post a blog today about a wonderful brand that is working to support the bar industry by running an exchange programme designed to help bartenders from different countries share ideas and experience other cultures. Unfortunately I woke up and read about a different brand owner who has done the opposite and has actually sued a bar! So my apologies to St Germain, my words about your fantastic exchange programme are going to have to wait a few days while I get this off my chest!
The back-story goes something like this… A tiki bar opens in New York and decides to draw inspiration from a classic tiki drink, the ‘Painkiller’ and in fact decides to name itself after this exotic libation. In its first year of doing business, this bar gains a fantastic reputation and business is going well for the team there. Unfortunately though, the Painkiller cocktail is one of the very few that has been trademarked by a brand, in this case Pusser’s rum, and the brand decides to sue the bar claiming irreparable harm to its brand, unfair competition and unfair business practices.
The concept of trademarking a cocktail is quite emotive within the drinks industry, and is not something generally embraced by bartenders. It leads to the potential for incidents like this to arise, and it stifles creativity when you are required by law to use a certain product in a particular drink. We all have a favourite rye that we like in our Manhattans, a particular rum for our Daiquiri, or a tequila that we can’t help but reach for when making a Tommy’s. Being free to play with different products in each drink we make is one of the wonders of the cocktail scene, so when that choice is removed it tends to get bartenders riled, and results in the consumers choice being compromised.
The outcome of the Pusser’s lawsuit is that the bar ‘formerly known as Painkiller’ will now be known as ‘PKNY’ (although I suspect that every bartender who knows it will still call it Painkiller) and they have had to surrender their domain name, as well as removing any reference to ‘Painkiller’ on their drinks list or marketing material, unless it is in reference to the classic drink and states that it is made using Pusser’s rum (as if that’s likely to happen now).
So my point here is this: regardless of the individuals and brands involved, this industry has enough hurdles to tackle, so what’s with the in-fighting? Let’s think ‘bigger picture’ here!
Of course when a company takes out a trademark, they have the right to defend it in a court of law, so from that point of view, Pusser’s have just acted within their rights. That being said, I think that a spirit brand suing a cocktail bar is very short-sighted and can only ever lead to a bad feeling in the industry towards the brand. In fact, judging by the reaction within the global bartending community on Twitter and Facebook, as well as in blogs and websites, Pusser’s has done itself more harm than good.
What annoys me about this whole situation is that we all work in an industry where both sides, the brands and the bars, need to support each other. Pusser’s have missed this point and thus also missed an opportunity to work with this fabulous bar and to promote the Painkiller™ cocktail, to improve their industry reputation and, ultimately gain positive media attention to their brand. Instead they are being vilified by bartenders around the world and portrayed as ‘big bullies’ picking on a small independent bar owner. Is that really the reputation you want Pusser’s?
Now obviously I haven’t been privy to the communication between the owners of the brand and the owners of ‘the bar formerly known as Painkiller’ and there are always two sides to any story, but it seems to me that this was a great chance for a brand and a bar to come together and support each other. Instead bartenders are getting behind the bar owners; Pusser’s have given them the perfect chance to focus their negativity on one product.
There will no doubt be plenty more chat over the coming days on this subject so let me leave it with this one simple thought. No matter what happens in the drinks industry, we are fortunate enough to have a global community, but (unfortunately for Pusser’s) one that is quick to close ranks and support each other. I suspect that there are plenty of bartenders, managers and owners who poured away the last of their Pusser’s rum today and won’t be ordering it again anytime soon. It’s a shame when this could most likely have been avoided!
So brands, take this as a serious piece of advice: work with bars not against them; support their efforts, and be reasonable when dealing with delicate issues such as this. The consequences of not doing this can be to the detriment of your brand.
In the meantime if you happen to be in New York anytime soon, please show your support for ‘the bar formerly known as Painkiller’ it’s a great place owned by good guys, in fact the very type whom should be embraced by the spirits industry!