Gin it up! Two booze makers seize Brooklyn’s good name

Gin it up! Two booze makers seize Brooklyn’s good name
Fhoto by Julie Rosenberg

Manhattan has its own eponymous cocktail, but Brooklyn now has two gins — and this being Brooklyn, the makers are in a street fight over who’ll get to use our borough’s great name.

In one corner, weighing in at $39.99, wearing the cobalt blue bottle and preferring the modern name of the borough is Brooklyn Gin, a concoction distilled upstate by a Miami Beach-based company run by a former Bacardi and Dewar’s executive.

In the near corner, weighing in at $35, in a clear bottle and opting for our homeland’s ancestral spelling is Breuckelen Gin, a spirit concocted on 19th Street in Sunset Park by a laid-off stock broker-turned-flannel-clad booze aficionado.

Round 1: A federal trademark lawsuit, filed on Oct. 25 by the makers of Brooklyn Gin, claiming that the liquors are “phonetically identical” and that mix-ups have caused the Florida firm “irreparable harm.”

Round 2: The counterpunch.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Breuckelen Distilling owner Brad Estabrooke, whose gin has hibiscus notes and a velvety finish. “How could someone who doesn’t live in Brooklyn try to squash me when I’m making a product right here?”

Of course, like any good heavyweight battle, this one has been months in the making.

It all started in April, 2010, when Brooklyn Gin owner Angel “Joe” Santos — who really does own a posh waterfront condo in Miami Beach — filed papers to legally trademark the name Brooklyn Gin, eight months before Estabrooke. He finally started selling bottles in June 2010 — two months before Estabrooke did, according to the lawsuit, though Estabrooke’s website and lawyers claim that he was making and distributing his Breuckelen Gin months before Santos.

The real trouble began brewing in August, when Santos visited New York bars to hawk his liquor. But at Fatty ’Cue and Peter Luger in South Williamsburg, workers told him that a rep from his company had already come in with the stuff.

But they hadn’t; those reps, it turned out, were hawking Breuckelen, not Brooklyn.

That’s when Santos called Estabrooke for a classic mano-a-mano sitdown at Brooklyn Bread Cafe in Park Slope. Santos wanted a settlement, but the sides were far apart, so Santos hired a lawyer.

“If this is happening at a bar level,” he said. “It’s going to happen at a consumer level.”

The case now hangs on two big things: If buyers are likely to confuse the liquors, and whether Estabrooke can show he really was first to make it. A photo on Estabrooke’s website shows him distilling gin back in March when Santos was still officially operating as Maverick Distilling — a name that was not changed until May.

Estabrooke’s lawyers might also be able to argue that Brooklyn Gin — which is bottled closer to Canada than Brooklyn — is “geographically deceptive” under the federal Lanham Act.

Brooklyn Gin is the out of towner.
Photo by Julie Rosenberg

Estabrooke, 31, has lawyers Alex Chachkes and Joe Sherinsky fighting the suit pro-bono. They argue that Brooklyn Gin’s trademark “was obtained improperly and fraudulently,” using misleading statements, court papers show.

“We certainly feel strongly about this case,” Sherinsky said. “Our position is that consumers are not confused and the mark shouldn’t have been registered in the first place.”

The court battle raises questions about local business, bragging rights and geographic authenticity now that Kings County has become the Napa Valley of hand-crafted distilleries. It also tells the story of two young entrepreneurs — with opposite business styles — vying for turf.

Both businessmen were inspired two years ago by Brooklyn’s independent entrepreneurial spirit and reputation for artisan food and drink. Santos chose the name after reading newspaper articles about a movement to eat locally; Estabrooke noticed an in-flight magazine about laws that make it easier for micro-distilleries to open.

“This place has a cache to it,” Estabrooke said. “And that’s part of what the fight is about.”

Red, White and Bubbly on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope sells both spirits — whose bottles flank a sign reading, “Let’s get ready to rumble.”

The bell clangs — and the winner is…?

Owner Adam Goldstein said that his pick is Breuckelen Gin.

“If it’s going to be a street fight,” he said. “This one has an edge because he’s making it right down the block.”

And if Goldstein had to sell just one?

“I’d let my customers decide,” he said, swirling his drink.

“Brooklynites can sniff-out if someone’s heart isn’t in it,” he said.

Breuckelen Gin is made on 19th Street in Sunset Park.
Photo by Julie Rosenberg