Earlier this year, we saw consumers fired up about allegedly misleading labels on whiskey-maker Sazerac’s “Fireball Cinnamon” product, with class action suits filed by multiple consumers against the brand. Now, things are heating up for Sazerac after a California judge denied its motion to dismiss claims that the product is malt beverage falsely advertised as whiskey.

This week, the court decided that the Plaintiff in a suit filed in February adequately alleged that the mini bottles of Fireball Cinnamon, a malt beverage containing no whiskey, are labeled so that consumers would think they were purchasing Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, a distilled spirit. In his complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that he was deceived by the whiskey-maker’s marketing into purchasing Fireball’s malt product by its use of labeling, wording, and packaging similar to that of Fireball Whisky. He stated he falsely believed he was purchasing a full single serving of Fireball Whisky, when he was instead purchasing a one-sixth serving of a malt beverage.

In determining that the Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the label and packaging were affirmatively misleading, the court listed similarities between the label for Fireball Malt and Fireball Whisky, including that they both include the brand name “Fireball,” Sazerac’s firebreathing dragon logo, the words “RED HOT,” the same color scheme, burnt edge, font and labeling, and the words “CINNAMON.” Additionally, the order stated, Fireball Malt is packaged in the 1.7-oz, shot-size bottle which is common for hard liquor.

While the whiskey-maker argued that Plaintiff “failed to identify a misrepresentation or any justifiable reliance,” the court disagreed. According to the order, the complaint adequately identifies a misrepresentation in that the product was labeled and packaged in a way that would mislead a reasonable consumer to believe it to be Fireball Whiskey. And, the court said, the Plaintiff relied upon the product’s labels and packaging which he reasonably understood was a single-serving of Fireball Whiskey.

The court denied Sazerac’s motion to dismiss. This lawsuit is just one among some others filed against Sazerac in recent months for the alleged misleading labeling of their Fireball Cinnamon product.

McKay v. Sazerac, case number 3:23-cv-00522, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.