The Dant and Beam names meander throughout Kentucky’s distilling history like water through the limestone walls of Mammoth Cave. And in case you don’t know, Mammoth Cave National Park, which was created over millions of years, is the longest known cave system in the world. Its limestone labyrinth boasts some 405 miles of explored caves with a potential for another 600 miles that have not yet been explored. It’s that limestone rich water that’s preferred to make fine bourbon.
The history of distilling in Kentucky has taken its own twists and turns over the years. Much of that history has been recorded in the form of taxes levied on every ounce of distilled spirits and through litigation. When it comes to lawsuits, there are entire books dedicated to distilling history through the eyes of lawsuits.
Starting this month there is a new chapter that may be added to the next volume of that book as Heaven Hill Distillery has filed a lawsuit against startup Log Still Distillery.
Complaint for Trademark Infringement and Unfair Competition
Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Log Still Distilling LLC for “TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT AND UNFAIR COMPETITION.”
The lawsuit preliminary statement reads as follows.
1. This is an action for infringement of Heaven Hill’s federally registered “J.W. DANT” trademark under Section 32(1) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1); for infringement of Heaven Hill’s common-law trademark “THE DANT DISTILLERY COMPANY”; for unfair competition; for false designation of origin under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a); and for substantial and related claims under the statutes and common law of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, all arising from Log Still’s unauthorized use of the name “Dant” in connection with Log Still’s production, distribution, marketing, advertising, promotion, offering for sale, and sale of whiskey and related goods and services.
2. Heaven Hill seeks monetary damages and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.
J.W. ‘Wally’ Dant announced in 2019 that he was going to get his family back in the distilling business by founding Log Still Distillery. Wally Dant is the Great-great-great Grandson of Joseph Washington Dant. J.W. Dant started the family in the distilling business back in 1836. Since then Dant, his sons and many of his family members have been a part of Kentucky distilling history for hundreds of years. The Dant family sold the business in the middle of WWII.
The suit provides a good outline of the history of the Dant family distilling history from the 1800s, through Prohibition until the family business was sold to United Distillers in 1943. This summary will help to shed light upon the number of times the business changed hands.
“In 1870, J.W. Dant built a commercial distillery in Dant, Kentucky that would become The Dant Distillery Company, Inc., and which produced J.W. Dant branded whiskey.
J.W. Dant and his wife Ann had seven sons, all of whom were involved in the distilling and spirits industry. J.W. Dant’s sons George and Wallace (Wally) took over The Dant Distillery Company, Inc., and were assisted in that distillery by their brothers Thomas, Frank, and James. In 1912, J.W. Dant’s son J.B. Dant opened his own distillery, the Cold Spring Distillery in Gethsemane, Kentucky, which became famous for producing YELLOWSTONE® whiskey.
The Dant Distillery Company, Inc. produced and sold J.W. DANT whiskey continuously from its opening until Prohibition. During Prohibition, J.W. DANT whiskey continued to be sold as medicinal whiskey.
When Prohibition came to an end, six of J.W. Dant’s seven sons—all but Wally Dant—were still living. Most of the sons were involved in the revival of The Dant Distillery Company, Inc., while J.B. Dant and his six sons built the Taylor & Williams Yellowstone Distillery in Jefferson County, Kentucky.
As often happened in the distilled spirits industry, the members of the Dant family ultimately decided to sell their companies and exit the industry. When the Dants did so they sold their companies’ valuable assets, trademarks, and brands—and with it the associated goodwill — to other companies who continued in the distilled spirits industry.
Specifically, in 1943, the assets, stock, and trademarks of The Dant Distillery Company, Inc., including the J.W. DANT trademark and associated goodwill, were sold to United Distillers of America.
Roughly ten years later, on March 5, 1953, Schenley Distillers, Inc. (“Schenley”) purchased all of the assets and goodwill of The Dant Distillery Co., Inc., including its corporate name and J.W. DANT trademark, from United Distillers of America. Schenley thereafter registered “THE DANT DISTILLERY COMPANY” as one of its assumed names, which it used in connection with its manufacture and sale of distilled spirits using the J.W. DANT trademark.
In 1944, the Glenmore Distillery acquired all of the assets and trademarks of Taylor & Williams Yellowstone Distillery, including the YELLOWSTONE® trademark. Glenmore Distillery manufactured and sold distilled spirits using the YELLOWSTONE® mark from 1944 through 1991.
In 1987 Guinness purchased Schenley, and ultimately merged it into a Guinness subsidiary named United Distillers.
In 1991 the Glenmore Distillery was also acquired by Guinness, who also merged it into the Guinness subsidiary United Distillers.
In 1993, Heaven Hill purchased both the J.W. DANT and YELLOWSTONE® trademarks from United Distillers. Immediately thereafter Heaven Hill sold the YELLOWSTONE® trademark to LuxCo (Lux Row Distillers), but retained the J.W. DANT trademark, which Heaven Hill has proudly and successfully used without interruption for the past 28 years in connection with the production, distribution, marketing, advertising, promotion, and sale of distilled spirits.”
In Heaven Hill’s claim is that Log Still Distillery is drawing from the Dant trademark with the use of the “Dant legacy”. The Log Still Distillery website states that it is “Reviving the Dant Legacy One Barrel at a Time.”.
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Log Still Distillery Responds to Heaven Hill Complaint
DistilleryTrail reached out to Log Still Distillery for their response to Heaven Hills filing and received this statement.
“With the upcoming launch of our Monk’s Road spirits collection, Log Still Distillery begins a new chapter that pays homage to the seven generations of Dants who have proudly been part of the bourbon business for nearly 200 years. Our products and brands are intentionally distinct from, and cannot be confused with, the “J.W. Dant”-branded bourbon sold by Heaven Hill. We believe this lawsuit is unfounded and will respond to the court papers at the appropriate time.”
Log Still Distillery is planning on opening its Tasting Room in May of 2021. Once opened they are expected to offer a variety of Log Still Distillery sourced spirits under Monk’s Road and Rattle & Snap brands. Log Still’s main distillery is expected to be completed in 2022.
History Shows the Dant Family Name Used at Two Distilleries in the Past
Ironically, this is not the first time that the Dant family name has been brought up in a lawsuit. Joseph Washington “J.W.” Dant had seven sons, each of whom were involved in distilling at some point during their lives either with their father or on their own. Some of Dant’s grandchildren also got involved in the family business.
According to the book Bourbon Justice – How Whiskey Law Shaped America by Brian Haara, the Dant family name was used by the John P. Dant Distillery Company, Inc. (Grandson of J.W. Dant) and The Dant Distillery Co., Inc.
“When each Dant distillery was owned by Dant family members, they cooperated, and both used the Dant name in their brands. It was not until Schenley arrived that it threatened John P. Dant Jr. and sought exclusive use of the Dant name.
“After acknowledging the general rule that “every man has the undeniable right to the use of his patronymic name in his business and he cannot be absolutely restrained from using it, even though another person bearing the same name, previously established in a business of the same character, has adopted it,” and the exception to the rule that restricts the use of a surname whenever it would cause confusion, the court formulated an equitable exception to the exception. Because both sides of the Dant family had used the Dant name as part of their business and brand names and neither tried to restrict the other for over forty years, Schenley could not swoop in to claim an exclusive right to the Dant name.”
Startup Kentucky Distilleries with Historic Connections
The Dant name is not the only name whose roots run deep throughout Kentucky’s distilling history. Several of today’s craft spirits distilleries started with a family connection or they were built upon a property that was once used as a distillery. Below are a few examples.
Click any image to enlarge.
We’ll continue to cover this story as it advances through the courts. Hopefully the party’s involved can reach some kind of settlement.