A promotional website for Lemon Head vodka describes the Charleston product as “daring,” “sexy,” and “carefree.” But a lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court claims it’s also in violation of trademark laws.
The Ferrara Candy Company, manufacturer of Lemonhead – a sour candy dating back to 1963 – argues the name is “likely to cause consumer deception and confusion.” Ferrara’s attorney did not return a call seeking further comment
According to Lemon Head Vodka’s web site, the spirit is “proudly distilled and bottled by Striped Pig Distillery.” Striped Pig’s co-owner Casey Lillie clarifies the forthcoming vodka is not a Striped Pig product, but is produced by the distillery on a contract basis.
Lillie wouldn’t reveal how many spirits brands are currently contracting with Striped Pig, citing non-disclosure agreements, but says, “when we get a contract, they deal with all of the trademarks.”
Striped Pig is not named in the lawsuit. And Lemon Head Vodka’s five owners, identified as “Does” in the lawsuit, say they haven’t yet been formally served. Still, co-owner Russell McCray has already developed the outline of a defense: He argues that none of Lemonhead’s trademarks pertain to alcoholic beverages, and points out that the Sazerac Company since 2006 has marketed “Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey,” which recalls the name of Ferrara’s Atomic Fireball candy.
There is no record of Ferrara suing Sazerac over the whiskey, although Sazerac in 2012 sued Hood River Distillers Inc. for trademark infringement after the Oregon company released “SinFire Cinnamon Whiskey.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the highly successful Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey which inspired Lemon Head Vodka. (In a story entitled “Fireball Cinnamon Liquor is the Most Popular Liquor Brand You’ve Never Heard Of,” the Huffington Post last summer chronicled Fireball’s tripling of sales over the previous year. At bars which stock the spirit, it accounts for nearly seven percent of sales.)
“We were sitting around one Sunday morning, talking about how we were sick of cinnamon-flavored whiskey,” co-owner Cari Stafford reminisces. “Then we thought of a lemon drop shot.”
Lemon Head’s owners describe their product as “lemon-featured,” instead of “lemon-flavored,” as a way of conveying its yellow color and lemony aroma. “It’s not like Smirnoff, where you have a strong medicinal flavor,” says Stafford, who recently headed up a tasting session for friends.
“These are girls who like their Pinot Grigio, girls who like their fruity drinks, and they were drinking this on ice,” Stafford says.
McCray says the vodka is slated for release this summer. “We’re working with (Lillie), putting together a plan,” he says. The group doesn’t anticipate having to tweak the brand name.
“We’re just friends from Charleston who decided they wanted to blow up the industry,” Stafford says.