Kieran Folliard wanted his Irish whisky brand 2 Gingers, based in Minneapolis, to have more name recognition so he made a bold move: trademarked a few cocktails. The Big Ginger and Skinny Ginger, Folliard’s creations, are now on the short list of trademarked cocktails of the world, which also includes the Painkiller, Dark ‘N Stormy, Hand Grenade and Sazerac.
Technically you cannot trademark a cocktail recipe, but you can trademark a cocktail’s name. And with that name, you can specify that it needs to include a particular brand of booze. For instance, a Dark ‘N Stormy must include Gosling’s Black Seal rum. (Want to use a different kind of rum in a Dark ‘N Stormy? That’s fine, but you are no longer legally allowed to call it a Dark ‘N Stormy.)
Big Ginger contains two parts 2 Gingers Whisky, ginger ale, a wedge of lemon and a wedge of lime. The Skinny Ginger is made the same way, except using diet ginger ale. So why would someone order a Big Ginger versus a regular old whiskey and ginger ale? Folliard thinks it’s the taste of his whisky, which has hints of vanilla, honey and citrus.
“All of those flavors marry well with ginger ale and of course lemon and lime, the adornments to the Big and Skinny Gingers,” he says. “It’s supposed to be fun, easy to remember and playful to ask for.” (Beam, Inc., maker of Jim Beam, bought 2 Gingers a few years after the company received its trademarks.)
For spirits brands, trademarking a cocktail is a good way to gain publicity; if someone wants to drink that cocktail, they must use your brand. However, defending your trademark takes a lot of time and money. The trademark owners of the Dark ‘N Stormy, Painkiller, Hand Grenade and Sazerac aggressively monitor the use of their names and take legal action against any offenders. If they don’t, they risk their trademarks becoming the drink’s common or generic name and losing its trademarked status.
Pusser’s Rum forced a tiki bar in New York City to change its name from Painkiller to PKNY; Sazerac’s lawyers have gone after bloggers who suggested using a different brand of whiskey in a Sazerac; and Tropical Isle offers a $250 cash reward to “anyone furnishing information that leads to the identification and termination of the illegal use of our federally registered trademark the Hand Grenade.”
But for bartenders who just want to protect their intellectual property, the cost and time needed to gain a trademark and enforce the trademark is often not worth the hassle.
To secure a trademark, you first need to investigate the availability of the name for trademarking (or hire a hire a patent/trademark attorney to do so) and then submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It costs $375 to submit an application. If the USPTO agrees to issue your trademark, you could receive it anywhere from six months to two years later. You must renew the trademark every 10 years for $400. That does not include the legal and court fees you would need to pay to enforce the trademark against anyone using it illegally.
Folliard says he had a few ups and downs during the trademark process, but would recommend it to any spirit brand or bartender. “If a cocktail has a proven following, it’s well worth protecting,” he says. “It also adds another string to the branding of their business; we have a trademarked cocktail.”
In fact, Folliard is already thinking up the next cocktail to trademark, perhaps called it a Wee (small) Ginger.
“I always wondered, what if the first Irish Coffee had been trademarked?” he says. “Now there was a missed opportunity.”
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep