There’s a little news story out today that makes me sad for a couple of reasons.
A fellow named Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was driven to suicide by the government over his illegal activities and now his wife is being sued out of existence by Jack Daniels. It’s a sad story, pull up a chair and see what our country has become.
A fellow by the name of Marvin Sutton brewed his own Tennessee Whiskey for many years. He didn’t bother to get a license for his stills or pay taxes on his sales so he was considered a Moonshiner and Bootlegger. The reason we require a distillery to be licensed is that poorly produced alcohol has the potential to kill and cause serious harm. The reason we require taxes is to fund the government.
Sutton produced his illegal whiskey for many years and became prominent for his videos showing how to make whiskey. He sold to a small but dedicated group of buyers for many years until the federal government gathered enough evidence to try him for his crimes. He was found guilty an sentenced to 18 months in prison. At about that time he was also diagnosed with cancer and rather than serve his time he committed suicide.
I’m not opposed to the government making sure our food supply is safe and I do think they have the right to force licensing on production of things like alcohol. I’m also not opposed to taxes on alcohol. The taxes are justified by the distribution required. The roads necessary for supplies required to manufacture the whiskey and for the finished product to be shipped.
I’m not completely sympathetic to Sutton. He knew the rules and many other liquor companies manage to follow the regulations and turn a nice profit. He broke the law and chose suicide rather than prison. It’s sad, as I said, but he certainly bears the responsibility for the decisions he made.
Now, onto the next part of this story. His liquor had a small but loyal following and some of those backers had some money. They decided to form a company with his widow and began to produce and distribute, legally, Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. Initially they used mason jars as a tribute to Sutton but as popularity grew redesigned the bottle and label. That’s where Jack Daniel’s comes in.
The bottles of both products are squarish and have black and white labels. The labels are not similar except color pattern. For Jack Daniel’s this was enough to suspect that consumers would think that Sutton’s whiskey was actually a new brand from Jack Daniel’s. They’ve filed a lawsuit demanding that Sutton destroy all existing bottles and turn over all profits from sales.
This lawsuit will be difficult to fight and will certainly cost Sutton’s company a lot of money. They might not be able to stand-up under the pressure. We’ll see. On the other hand, it might be that the publicity generated from the lawsuit will spur Sutton’s whiskey to new heights. I’m certainly curious about it now and I do purchase whiskey.
Still, I find the entire story somewhat disheartening. A fellow who wanted to make a quality whiskey. A widow who wanted to start a company. The massive forces arrayed against them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing that it’s unfair. The government has the right to regulate. Jack Daniel’s has the right to sue. It’s just a little sad that it’s so much trouble for a fellow to make and sell a nice whiskey.
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