September 22, 2014 – A Chicago-based law firm has targeted Iowa’s Templeton Rye as the first whisky brand to face a class-action lawsuit over allegations that it misrepresented its whisky’s origins. Edelson PC launched a web-based campaign in August looking for consumers to represent in legal action against Templeton and other “small-batch” whisky producers, and filed its first suit in Cook County Chancery Court September 9 with Christopher McNair as the lead plaintiff.
In McNair’s complaint as reported by Courthouse News Service, he claims that he bought more than a dozen bottles of Templeton Rye between 2008 and 2014 based on the belief that the whisky had been distilled in Iowa, according to the distillery’s own marketing materials. As Templeton’s founders have told WhiskyCast for many years, the whisky is distilled at the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, but blended and bottled in Templeton, Iowa, where the company maintains a small distillery that has been used primarily for tours. From the filing:
“If plaintiff knew that Templeton Rye was not made in Iowa but was distilled and aged at MGP’s facilities in Indiana, he would not have purchased Templeton Rye or he would have paid less for each bottle.”
Templeton founders Scott Bush and Keith Kerkhoff said in last week’s episode of WhiskyCast that they are working on plans to build a larger distillery in Templeton with a goal of replacing the bulk whiskey supplied by MGP-I with their own recipe. They also have committed to changing the Templeton Rye label to include “Distilled in Indiana” as required by federal regulations for whisky producers based in a different state than where their whisky is distilled. In a statement released Friday, Kerkhoff denied the suit’s allegations that Templeton Rye tried to mislead its customers.
“The allegations made by the plaintiff are totally without merit and will be conclusively proven to be untrue. Templeton Rye Spirits will vigorously defend against these allegations and the Company has every confidence that it will be vindicated. It is an unfortunate circumstance of our system that such scurrilous and inaccurate allegations can be made with virtual impunity.”
MGP is the former Seagram’s Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and produces bulk whisky, vodka, and other spirits exclusively for sale to independent bottlers and producers. Its whiskies are used in Diageo’s Bulleit Rye and George Dickel Rye whiskies, as well as some of the bottlings from High West, Redemption, and other small whisky producers. The lawsuit claims Templeton is misleading consumers by claiming to be a “small-batch” handmade product, when it actually comes from a large commercial distillery’s standard recipe.
No court date has been set for a hearing in the case, though the Chancery Court’s docket lists a “case management” conference for January 7, 2015. WhiskyCast has contacted McNair’s attorney, Amir Missaghi of Edelson, to request an interview, but we have not received a response.
This story will be updated as we receive additional information.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a response to the lawsuit from Templeton Rye’s Keith Kerkhoff. Court filings in civil cases only represent one party’s side of the story, and civil courts allow each party time to file a response to filings made by other parties in the case. As of this posting, Templeton Rye’s lawyers have not yet filed a response to the claims made in the McNair lawsuit.