Whisky Or Malt Liquor? Fireball – Popular Minnesota Drink – In Hot Water Over Marketing Move
Is it or isn't it? Depends on where you buy it.
A popular brand of adult beverages - especially in the Northland - has found itself in a little hot water over what sort of alcohol it really is.
While it was originally developed in the 1980's just a little farther North of here in Canada, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky was first distributed in the United States in the 2010's. With trendy looking packaging and its warm taste profile, it quickly grew to become a popular beverage of choice for many. First developed by Seagrams as "Dr. McGillicuddy's Fireball Whisky", it was rebranded to just "Fireball Whisky" when Sazarec Company bought the rights in 1989.
By the mid 2010's, the brand has established itself as one of the fastest growing products in the liquor industry. In 2013 its sales surpassed Jose Cuervo tequila and by 2016, "Bloomberg reported that with estimated sales of at least $150 million [the previous year], the brand had overtaken Jagermeister in popularity to become the top selling liquor in the United States."
Now it appears as if the brand is in for some legal trouble.
About two years ago, Fireball's manufacturer created a malt liquor beverage that had "the iconic Fireball Whisky flavor profile" but with a 16.5% ABV. Most importantly, because it was a malt beverage and not whisky, it could be sold in stores that cannot sell spirits. Instantly, that allowed its placement in grocery stores, convenience stores, and the like.
The labeling looked similar - the familiar iconic fire-breathing devil character, yellow label, and red writing were there. But there was a subtle, slight difference in the name; while the original product was labeled "Fireball Cinnamon Whisky", this malt version was called simply "Fireball Cinnamon".
Subtle, but effective. Even though the company clearly labels the products as being different and their website makes no bones about the differences, most consumers easily confuse the two as being the same product. [Fireball's website suggests that Fireball Cinnamon offers "the iconic Fireball taste...no available in a malt base that perfectly mirrors the original Fireball Cinnamon Whisky".]
Many people weren't bothered by the difference. But some are. Enough people have banded together to develop a class action lawsuit against Sazarec - claiming that the company "misleads consumers who purchase its Fireball Cinnamon mini product while expecting it to contain whisky".
The class action lawsuit was filed in an Illinois federal court. In the court documents filed, the litigants claim that "by not including the words "flavors" after "natural whisky", purchasers who look closely will expect the distilled spirit of whisky was added as a separate ingredient".
The class action lawsuit was just filed in January, and there isn't an expected timeline for a verdict.