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Fireball Maker Sued Over Bottles That Don’t Contain Whisky



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The maker of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky has been sued for fraud for selling a beverage that, at a glance, looks like the spicy Fireball spirit famed for its ubiquity at college parties, but which doesn’t actually contain much of a key ingredient: whisky.

The malt beverage in dispute, called “Fireball Cinnamon,” has a lower alcohol content than its whisky-based cousin and can be sold at grocery stores and gas stations across the country. It comes in multiple sizes.

The plaintiff, Anna Marquez of Chicago, said in the lawsuit that she bought Fireball Cinnamon unaware that it was a different product from the whisky she expected. Ms. Marquez “is like many consumers of alcoholic beverages who prefers distilled spirits or products containing distilled spirits to malt-based beverages,” said the lawsuit, which was filed this month in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois. Ms. Marquez is seeking more than $5 million.

The Sazerac Company, which makes both beverages, does not comment on ongoing litigation, a company spokeswoman said. On the company’s website, a frequently asked questions page for Fireball Cinnamon says that the malt beverage, unlike the whisky, can be sold at 170,000 stores in the United States that are allowed to sell beer and wine but not spirits.

Malt beverages, such as hard seltzers and wine coolers, have a fermented base and are usually flavored. The Sazerac Company said on its website that the malt-based Fireball Cinnamon was 33 proof and that the Fireball Cinnamon Whisky was 66 proof.

The lawsuit said that the Sazerac Company’s representations of Fireball Cinnamon were “false and misleading” and that the bottles “appear similar” to Fireball Cinnamon Whisky bottles.

Both bottles have a red cap, a yellow label with the word “Fireball” and a logo featuring a fire-breathing, dragon-like creature in red. A key difference is that one product is described on the bottle as “Cinnamon Whisky,” and the malt beverage is described just as “Cinnamon.”

The Fireball Cinnamon bottle also describes the contents as a “malt beverage with natural whisky and other flavors and caramel color.”

The lawsuit said that “natural whisky and other flavors” was “a clever turn of phrase” because people might misread it as “natural whisky,” thinking it was a reference to the spirit, and not understand that it was a flavor.

This marketing also allows for the product to be sold at a “premium price” of 99 cents for 50 milliliters, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit cites two columns about how the labeling was confusing. In an April 2021 article published in The Albany Times Union, the writer, Steve Barnes, said that his friend “who peddles booze for a living” had heard from clients at liquor stores who had said that they were frustrated because customers thought that Fireball Cinnamon Whisky was being sold at grocery stores, not realizing that it was the Fireball Cinnamon product.

The lawyer who filed the lawsuit, Spencer Sheehan, has filed more than 400 lawsuits targeting food and beverage companies, NPR reported in 2021. Many of these lawsuits accuse companies of misleading product labeling, such as foods described as vanilla-flavored, but that actually use synthetic vanilla instead of vanilla beans or vanilla extract.

Mr. Sheehan is seeking class action status for the lawsuit to cover people who bought Fireball Cinnamon in 12 states, including Illinois, Wyoming and Arizona.


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