New York Supreme Court Rules on the Bacardi Cocktail

During Prohibition, United States tourists in Cuba would ask for the popular BACARDÍ Cocktail, a pink-colored drink comprised of lime juice, grenadine, and BACARDÍ rum. After Prohibition ended, “BACARDÍ Cocktails” became increasingly popular in bars in the United States. As imported rum was more expensive than domestic rum, some bartenders attempted to save money by substituting the original BACARDÍ in the cocktail recipe with other rum brands.

Ever protective of the brand’s integrity, Bacardi executives sued the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan in 1936 for misrepresenting the “BACARDÍ Cocktail” to clients by not making it with BACARDÍ rum. The plaintiffs called barmen who wouldn’t think of making the BACARDÍ Cocktail with any other rum (including the judge’s own bartender); while the defendants called bartenders who felt that any rum would do in a BACARDÍ Cocktail. Just one year before the suit, an article in the New York Times pointed out that “Bacardi” had become one of those proper nouns that had come to mean a generic term for rum. Using this logic, the defendants argued that since “Bacardi” was synonymous with “rum,” any rum would suffice.

In April of 1937, the New York Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs. Bartenders were forbidden to make BACARDÍ Cocktails without the name brand implied in the drink’s title. Bacardi management was elated and launched an immediate ad campaign across billboards in the state with the messages, “It isn’t a BACARDÍ Cocktail unless it’s made with BACARDÍ!” and “Nothing takes the place of BACARDÍ.” Because of this 78-year-old court decision, bar patrons who ask for BACARDÍ cocktails today receive no substitutes.

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