Key takeaways

  • Fireball Whisky maker Sazerac is facing a lawsuit that claims it intentionally misled customers about the contents of Fireball Cinnamon
  • Fireball Cinnamon is a malt-based beverage often sold in 50-mL bottles where hard liquors can’t be sold
  • The lawsuit alleges that the tiny bottles’ branding is nearly identical to the real Fireball Cinnamon Whisky sold in nearly-identical packaging

“Tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”

You might be familiar with this tagline for Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, a popular liquor renowned for its caramel color and spicy aftertaste.

But if you’ve ever bought those tiny, $0.99-bottles of Fireball Cinnamon at your local convenience store, you might be shocked to learn it’s not whiskey at all.

That’s right: Fireball Cinnamon is actually a whiskey-flavored malt beverage – not the real deal.

That’s the basis of the Fireball Whiskey lawsuit filed in early January by Illinois resident Anna Marquez. And oof, it could be a stiff one.

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In a moment, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of this latest food-related class-action lawsuit. But first:

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When Fireball isn’t Fireball

Canadian-born Fireball Cinnamon Whisky was developed in the mid-1980s, but didn’t become popular in the U.S. until the mid-2000s. In 2011, the company saw $1.9 million in sales at convenience and grocery stores. Two years later, its sales soared to $61 million, launching it to stratospheric popularity.

But single-serving bottles of Fireball Cinnamon didn’t debut in the U.S. until 2020. These 50-mL single-serving bottles typically retail around $0.99. And, as some Fireball enthusiasts may be surprised to learn, their contents are substantially different from Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.

Fireball Cinnamon vs. Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Fireball Cinnamon is a malt-based beverage permitted for sale by businesses that can’t sale hard liquor. (Malt beverages are fermented drinks often classed similarly to beer or wine.) The tiny bottles also contain just 16.5% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, by contrast, is the real deal, containing 33% ABV. (Though, admittedly, it contains less ABV than more “traditional” whiskeys.) As a whiskey-based distilled spirit, it can only be sold by businesses that maintain a proper liquor license.

But while the bottles’ contents are markedly dissimilar, the Fireball whiskey lawsuit alleges that their packaging is not.

Maker
MKR
Sazerac explains online that you can differentiate between the two “by the words Fireball Cinnamon on the front label, without Whisky.” Additionally, the smaller bottles describe their contents as a “Malt Beverage With Natural Whisky & Other Flavors and Caramel Color.”

Aside from these changes, however, the labels contain the same color scheme and general branding as the larger, whiskey-containing bottles.

As writer Steve Barnes suggests, “The labels look almost identical. That is intentional.”

Whether the difference in language is enough to sidestep legal liability is now up to the courts.

The Fireball whiskey lawsuit

The Fireball whiskey lawsuit was filed by lead plaintiff Anna Marquez in the Northern District Court of Illinois in early January. She argues that the similar branding between Fireball Cinnamon and its harder whiskey-based variant is “misleading.”

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In her brief, Marquez states that the description of Fireball Cinnamon is a “clever turn of phrase.” She argues that “Natural Whisky & Other Flavors” on the smaller bottles could be misconstrued as referring to the liquor content, not taste. The filing also notes that a more accurate label would read “Natural Whisky Flavors & Other Flavors.”

Without the distinction, “purchasers who look closely will expect the distilled spirit of whisky was added as a separate ingredient.”

Thanks to this “misleading” advertising, Marquez is “unable to rely on the labeling of not only this product but other flavored malt beverages which use the names of distilled spirits.”

The lawsuit’s key arguments

Marquez’ filing cites several key points to be considered in the course of the lawsuit.

To start, it cites several 2021 news stories about the sudden appearance of Fireball where hard liquor sales generally aren’t permitted. One author even published a follow-up Tuesday entitled “It’s All My Fault that Fireball Whiskey is Being Sued.”

Some of the lawsuit’s additional allegations include:

  • Despite “almost identical” labels, Fireball sold at non-liquor stores “is not whisky at all”
  • The Plaintiff “did not immediately notice the differences” between Fireball Cinnamon and real whiskey due to the “labeling elements”
  • Expecting a beverage branded “Fireball Cinnamon” to contain whiskey “is an easy mistake to make, and one intended by the manufacturer”
  • Liquor stores reported fewer Fireball Cinnamon Whisky sales after customers found cheaper prices elsewhere
  • As a result of the company’s branding, the Plaintiff paid “more…than she would have” if she’d known the product didn’t contain whiskey

Marquez also argues that government regulations permit Fireball to use its spirit brand name, they prohibit “the overall misleading impression” of the smaller bottle’s packaging.

What does the lawsuit hope to accomplish?

The lawsuit seeks “unspecified statutory and punitive damages” for Fireball Cinnamon buyers in at least the following 12 states:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • North Dakota
  • Mississippi
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

The plaintiffs also aim to have the lawsuit certified as a class action by a judge. The suit’s lawyer, Spencer Sheehan, is renowned for challenging food brands’ misleading marketing, including Krispy Kreme and Frito-Lays.

A Sazerac representative has merely stated that the company won’t comment on ongoing litigation.

The bottom line on bottom’s up

As a privately-held company, the Fireball whiskey lawsuit won’t directly impact the average investor. Still, investing in other “sin stocks” like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana often comes with extra risks due to their heavy regulation and social stigma.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to be had…and Q.ai is here to help you find them.

With Q.ai’s Guilty Pleasures Kit, you can invest in “taboo” companies that serve humanity’s vices. From cigarettes and joints to sex and alcohol, we make it easy to invest in taking it easy.

Best of all, our artificial intelligence responds to real-world data, so when your Pleasures seem extra-Guilty, we can adjust for the added risk.

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