Fanciful Name Fallacy

Brown Sugar Bourbon?  We all know that Bourbon by code can’t have any coloring or flavorings, so how does this grotesque whiskey exist?  The answer is ‘Brown Sugar Bourbon’ is not Bourbon but a Whiskey Specialty; it’s listed in this product’s COLA application as a fanciful name. 

When a spirit type does not fall under any one clear class/type designation, the TTB encourages the producer to use a fanciful name to describe it.  Most products marketed as ‘Moonshine’ use that word on their label as a fanciful name; it does not exist anywhere in federal code as a class/type.  It’s all marketing trend words.


‘American Single Malt’ does not exist as a class type yet plenty of producers have this listed on their label.  If you check the COLA label on these, you will see they are using this as a fanciful name.  The brand name is Westland and the class/type is the general category of Whiskey.  This is simply Westland Whiskey with American Single Malt squeezed in between.

The TTB describes a fanciful name as “a term used in addition to the brand name for the purposes of further identifying a product”.  The TTB also states that product labels should not be misleading.  In the case of American Single Malt, I think it’s fair to say it correctly identifies the whiskey and provides a consumer with a better understanding of the product in the bottle, which is a whiskey derived from malted barley produced at a single distillery in the USA.

But what about Brown Sugar Bourbon?  First they are using an actual class/type whiskey, Bourbon, in their fanciful name.  That does not help a consumer further identify the product, it does the opposite and creates consumer confusion – is this a Bourbon distilled from brown sugar?

They use the term not once but twice and in a much larger font than the actual statement of composition which is ‘Bourbon whiskey with natural brown sugar & cinnamon flavors & caramel color’.  I asked the TTB about this and their response was “they look at labels in their entirety when determining whether a label is compliant (including whether it may be misleading to the consumer).” This is also bottled at 60 proof.  Bourbon by code has to be bottled at 80 proof.  So the statement of composition should also include diluted with water.  How far can a spirit go away from being Bourbon and the TTB allow a statement of composition to cover all?  My fanciful name in large type will be Marzipan Bourbon. In the small print statement of composition it will be listed as Bourbon with 60% GNS added with coconut nibs, marzipan and caramel coloring diluted with water to 40 proof. We will see if Fred Minnick will include this in one of his tastings.

Label artwork courtesy of Todd Grube.

The Scotch Whiskey Association would never allow whiskey with these types of flavors added to be marketed as Scotch.  In the USA we have the TTB that enforces what defines Bourbon. By allowing products like this into the market they are lowering the bar for what consumers think of bourbon and long term my opinion is that will have detrimental effects.

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