“Handmade” is too vague to be actionable for bourbon

Salters v. Beam Suntory, Inc., 2015 WL 2124939, No. 14cv659
(N.D. Fla. May 1, 2015)
Plaintiffs alleged that Maker’s Mark bourbon was falsely
advertised as “handmade.” In a pithy opinion, the court found that they
couldn’t state a claim for falsity.  As support
for the allegations of falsity, plaintiffs alleged that “Maker’s Mark is not
made by hand but is instead manufactured with large machines in a highly
mechanized process.”
Handmade means “made by hand,” although that is of course
But the term obviously cannot be
used literally to describe bourbon. One can knit a sweater by hand, but one
cannot make bourbon by hand. Or at least, one cannot make bourbon by hand at
the volume required for a nationally marketed brand like Maker’s Mark. No reasonable
consumer could believe otherwise.
RT: Last I checked, knitting usually required tools, albeit simple tools.  (There is a method known as finger knitting,
also arm knitting, but it can’t, as far as I know, produce a sweater.)  It’s amazing how technology can be invisible
to us in particular ways.  Like making a
sweater, making bourbon requires tools—the question is whether they are hand
Plaintiffs didn’t argue that “handmade,” in the context of
bourbon, meant “literally made by hand.” They offered other possible meanings,
including “made from scratch or in small units.” But the defendants say they
made Maker’s Mark that way, and the plaintiffs didn’t allege otherwise, or
challenge the representation on the label that each batch consists of no more
than 19 barrels. Plaintiffs argued that “handmade” implies close attention by a
human being, not a high-volume, untended process. But the defendants again said
their human beings paid close attention and that they made their bourbon in
small, carefully tended batches. Plaintiffs alleged no contrary facts, nor
could they plausibly allege that they were unaware that Maker’s Mark is mass
marketed nationwide.
Then plaintiffs tried the argument that “handmade” means
made with only some kinds of machines, not others, and that defendants used
machines that were too big or too modern. 
“[I]t is hard to take from the word ‘handmade’ a representation about
the age, or even the size, of equipment used in the process.”  (This debate about authenticity occurs in
many “craft” spaces—I’ve seen woodworking
over what counts as a “legitimate” hand tool.)
Then plaintiffs contended that “handmade” “connotes greater
value and trades on the current fashion that also brought us craft beer.”
Construed as such, “a general, undefined statement that connotes greater value,
detached from any factual representation” was mere puffery.

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