Bob Dylan co-creates Heaven's Door whiskey; Heaven Hill sues

Bob Dylan performs on stage during the 21st edition of the Vieilles Charrues music festival on July 22, 2012 in Carhaix-Plouguer, western France.
Fred Tanneau | AFP | Getty Images
Bob Dylan performs on stage during the 21st edition of the Vieilles Charrues music festival on July 22, 2012 in Carhaix-Plouguer, western France.

A liquor brand co-created by songwriting master Bob Dylan is being sued by a Kentucky brand for copyright infringement.

Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. filed a lawsuit against Heaven's Door Spirits LLC on Friday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Heaven's Door makes a Tennessee bourbon, a double-barrel finished whiskey and a rye whiskey, according to its website. Dylan made headlines when he launched the brand in April.

Heaven Hill is a large privately owned spirits maker based in Bardstown. Its biggest brand is Evan Williams, but it has been selling products under the Heaven Hill trademark in all 50 states and since 1937. Dylan's famous hit "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was recorded in 1973, by the way.

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Heaven Hill claims in the lawsuit that the Heaven's Door name is too similar and that the logo has similar stacked, block-script letters.

The company said it became aware of Heaven's Door in August 2017 and sent a cease-and-desist letter in April 2018. Heaven's Door responded to that letter by saying that it didn't believe consumers would confuse the two brands, the lawsuit said. It also said it did not intend to change its name.

According to the lawsuit, Heaven's Door has four members who are based in Illinois: Marc Bushala, Jeff Rosen, Andrew Rashkow and Tom Flocco. Bushala is a familiar name around here as an investor in the Angel's Envy Distillery on Main Street.

So far, Heaven's Door hasn't answered the lawsuit. But it did issue a statement, saying it believes the trademark infringement allegation to be "completely without merit" and that it "intends to vigorously defend itself and its Heaven's Door brand."

"Heaven's Door Spirits LLC has developed an award winning collection of handcrafted, American whiskies developed in partnership with legendary singer, songwriter and visual artist, Bob Dylan," the company said. "Each bottle of 'Heaven's Door' not only references the world famous song, 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door,' written by Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan, but also showcases images of his unique iron metalworks designed and made by Mr. Dylan. The company's trademark applications were examined and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the 'Heaven's Door' name and stylized versions of its name."

Heaven Hill does not plan to comment on the lawsuit past what already has been filed.

The lawsuit offers key details on Heaven Hill's business, which aren't often disclosed because it's a private company. For instance, the suit notes that in the last five years, Heaven Hill spent $7.5 million on marketing, advertising and promoting spirits under the Heaven Hill umbrella. About $3.6 million of that was spent on Heaven Hill-branded spirits, the lawsuit said. It also said the company has sold more than 830,000 nine-liter cases of Heaven Hill brand spirits.

The lawsuit also said the company's Evan William's Bourbon Experience, on Main Street in Louisville, gets more than 100,000 visitors per year and that its Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown receives about 65,000 annual visitors.

We've seen a few trademark infringement cases in the bourbon industry lately. In April, I wrote about Jack Daniel's filing a lawsuit against a competitor for using similar bottles. There was also a lawsuit involving Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire and the makers of Fireball Whiskey in 2015.