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Brough Brothers sues Kentucky distiller Fresh Bourbon

Kentucky-based whiskey maker Brough Brothers has launched a legal battle against a local producer over its claim to be the state’s first African-American-owned Bourbon distillery.

Brough Brothers in Kentucky
Brough Brothers in Kentucky was founded by brothers Victor, Bryson, and Christian Yarbrough

Founded by brothers Victor, Bryson, and Christian Yarbrough, Brough Brothers Distillery in Louisville was approved in August 2018. The site, which opened in December 2020, claims to be Kentucky’s first African-American-owned distillery.

The same claim has also been made by Lexington-based Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co, which had its US$5.4 million distillery plans delayed by the pandemic.

Husband and wife Sean and Tia Edwards revealed plans to build the 35,000-square-foot site near the Distillery District in Lexington in February 2020.

Represented by law firm Frost Brown Todd (FBT), Brough Brothers Distillery has now filed a lawsuit against Fresh Bourbon in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The company is calling for it to be ruled as the first African-American-owned distillery in Kentucky, citing ‘unfair competition’ under federal and state law.

“Brough Brothers is the only African-American-owned distillery in Kentucky that holds federal and state permits and thus authorised to distil in Kentucky,” said FBT attorney Chris Robinson. “It is the first to register with the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and Kentucky’s alcohol control board; therefore, Brough Brothers is the only African-American-owned distillery legally producing Bourbon.”

Brough Brothers said other firms that have been marketing themselves as the state’s first Black-owned Bourbon distillery are in violation of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act and the Lanham Act.

Sean and Tia Edwards
Sean and Tia Edwards founded Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co

Victor and Bryson Yarbrough founded Brough Brothers’ parent company Victory Global in 2013, with their brother Chris joining the firm in 2018 to launch the new distillery. The brothers distilled and filled their first barrel of Bourbon in December 2020.

“When we created Victory Global LLC, we recognised the absence of an African American-owned distillery in Kentucky and intended to be the first when we launched Brough Brothers Distillery,” said CEO Victor Yarbrough.

“We’ve worked tirelessly and followed all the legal and required steps to distil and fill our first barrel of Bourbon and are in the process of opening our doors to the public in spring 2021. There is no other African-American-owned distillery in Kentucky. We appreciate the opportunity to present our case before the court and look forward to their decision.”

In the lawsuit, Brough Brothers pointed to several ‘misleading statements’ made by Fresh Bourbon, including ‘Fresh Bourbon’s principals are the first African-Americans to make Kentucky Bourbon that were not slaves’.

Furthermore, Brough Brothers said it employed the first African-American master distiller in Kentucky, a claim that Fresh Bourbon also made. Brough Brothers also said it owned and operated a registered distillery in the state before Fresh Bourbon did.

Brough Brothers is seeking a permanent injunction that prevents Fresh Bourbon from making these claims.

Fresh Bourbon response

Sean Edwards said in a statement: “As the founders and owners of Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co, which was legally formed in 2017, my wife Tia and I stand behind everything we have said about our business, our Bourbon, and the designation the Kentucky Senate honoured us with.

“In association with our distilling partner, we have been barreling our unique mash bill Bourbon since 2018. We also stand behind our award-winning Bourbon which is mashed, distilled, and bottled in Kentucky.

“We believe it is better to celebrate diversity within Bourbon distilling, a Kentucky signature industry, rather than fighting among ourselves over claims. In fact, we reached out multiple times starting last year requesting to have a conversation about creating mutual benefit, which they declined. There are many firsts to accomplish, certainly enough to go around.

“While we believe we, and Brough Brothers, can mutually celebrate our heritage and our Bourbons, we have directed our counsel to vindicate our story, the truth.”

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