Bourbon & Barns recently caught up with Brian Haara, author of the new book Bourbon Justice: How Whiskey Law Shaped America. Attentive readers may remember Brian is a Louisville attorney, history fan and bourbon enthusiast who writes the Sipp’n Corn blog (now found at www.brianhaara.com). He even kindly shared a very interesting post about the Bottled in Bond Act with this blog last year.
Check out the interview about Brian’s new book and links for purchase below:
Bourbon & Barns: Brian, I understand you are an attorney in Louisville. Can you tell us a little about your background? Does any of your law practice concentrate on the bourbon industry? What does that entail?
Brian Haara: I moved to Kentucky in 1993 to attend law school at the University of Kentucky, and then moved to Louisville in 1996 and began practicing law. I’ve lived here ever since.
I solve problems for businesses and entrepreneurs, whether they’re involved in litigation or they’re trying to avoid litigation. In 2007, along with two of my law partners, we broke off from our old firm and founded Tachau Meek PLC, which is a business litigation boutique firm. I like to imagine that we’re the type of firm that Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. would have hired for his overabundance of litigation.
And yes, that means that part of my practice involves representing clients who own distilleries, who are employed at distilleries, and who need legal advice on distilling, blending, or selling spirits. Part of that involves bourbon trademark litigation, which happens to be a prominent part of Bourbon Justice.
B&B: So what compelled you to write this book? Was there a particular case that sparked your interest?
BH: I stumbled upon Pepper v. Labrot, a bourbon trademark case from the late 1800’s, in 2013 and I was hooked. I have always been a history fan, I had been a bourbon enthusiast since before it was cool, and suddenly I found a case that blended history, law, and bourbon. So I researched more and was fascinated by what I found and how often it told a different story than the standard marketing line.
My first step was starting my Sipp’n Corn® blog almost immediately after finding Pepper v. Labrot. I wanted to share my newfound discovery that dusty bourbon lawsuits tell the story of historic brands while also leading the development of American commercial law and telling the story of our nation. I learned that bourbon and history go hand-in-hand and that I could rely on historic lawsuits from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to provide proven facts that were found by courts to be reliable, as opposed to notoriously unreliable oral history and marketing legends.
Then I discovered that bourbon is still at the leading edge of commercial law and governmental regulation today, and with a little encouragement from readers, I realized that other people found this perspective interesting too.
Writing a book was always the ultimate goal; I just needed to research enough material first and find a way to tie it all together.
B&B: You've written previously on this blog about the Bottled in Bond Act and its impact on the bourbon industry and beyond. Are there other cases and laws that have as broad and longstanding an impact as the Bottled in Bond Act?
BH: The Bottled in Bond Act—even though the finer details have changed over time—is one of the mainstays of American law. It was our nation’s first consumer protection law so it deserves its place of prominence not just in bourbon lore, but also for American history.
Bourbon Justice covers other cases that had a lasting impact on American history too, like establishing and expanding trademark rights, setting limits on the ability to use your own surname in business, protecting people from unreasonable searches and seizures, fostering workplace safety laws, and much, much more. Bourbon law really provides the fabric of today’s laws.
I included “Beyond Bourbon” features in Bourbon Justice that tie some of the historic bourbon lawsuits to current-day commercials and advertising that we’ve all seen—and which have caused recent legal problems for brands like Victoria’s Secret, Listerine, Papa John’s, and Skechers. Historic bourbon lawsuits set the stage for laws impacting all of today’s advertising, but nothing else can match the Bottled in Bond Act.
B&B: The Prohibition era is certainly a landmark moment in bourbon history as well as American history in general. Does your book address Prohibition? What do you think are some of the lessons we can take away from Prohibition?
BH: Yes, Bourbon Justice addresses Prohibition, but I decided to take a different approach since it has been addressed so frequently by others. Bourbon Justice looks at Prohibition through temperance-biased judges who let those personal or political or moral views influence the outcome of cases against distillers. I also dive into how Prohibition led to more merchant bottling after Repeal and how Prohibition-era laws still impact spirits regulation today.
Bourbon Justice tries to avoid getting too caught up in lessons so that readers can draw their own conclusions and parallels to today’s world, but personally I believe that the unmitigated disaster of Prohibition should teach Americans about the dangers of legislating morality and the danger of nanny-state politicians. Our country is based on freedom, not on big government suppression of freedom.
B&B: What was your research process like for this book? What surprised you most during the course of your research?
BH: My research for Bourbon Justice started much like research for any of my clients, which involves reading appellate court decisions, but I realized pretty quickly that I needed to explore the underlying facts more thoroughly. So my wife, Laura (who is also an attorney), went to the Kentucky State Archives in Frankfort, Kentucky, which houses old court files that survived fires, floods, and document purges.
What we found was amazing—original deposition transcripts; original trial exhibits; original evidence; and original affidavits. This gave me exactly what I needed to tell historical stories instead of dry history lectures.
And that’s what led to my surprise—current-day brands do not always tell these intriguing historical stories, but instead some of them get too wrapped up in marketing and exaggeration. Truth is better than fiction for most storied brands.
B&B: Please add anything else you'd like to add.
BH: Did you know that the phrase “brand name” originated with bourbon? Or that the federal government apparently cared less about protecting citizens from dangerous products and adulterated food than it did ensuring that whiskey was pure? This is the sort of information that I found preserved by bourbon law, possibly along with the true history about your favorite bourbon brand.
I never expected bourbon law to be such a bountiful resource beyond just bourbon, and I suspect that’s why Bourbon Justice has been so popular outside of niche bourbon and legal circles.
Links for purchase:
Signed copies: https://brianhaara.com/buy-bourbon-justice/
Potomac Books: https://bit.ly/2QTkhtq