Can you copyright a cocktail recipe?

01 Sep

In this Internet age, the debate over intellectual property rages on. But “intellectual property” doesn’t refer only to music, literature and the like. It may well extend to cocktail creation.

Chantal Martineau, an experienced food-and-drink writer, has a nice look at the topic in The Atlantic. She sets up the debate this way:

“Shortly after the tiki-themed cocktail lounge Painkiller opened its doors on the Lower East Side of Manhattan this May, a man walked into the bar and threatened to issue a cease and desist order. Pusser’s, which distills a Navy-proof rum in the British Virgin Islands, trademarked the recipe for a Painkiller cocktail back in 1989. The man claimed that Painkiller’s owners, Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato, had no right to the name of the bar or its namesake cocktail, which they like to make with rums from Martinique and Jamaica. He was promptly sent packing.

“As we’ve learned from the folks at Goslings, who trademarked the recipe for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy in Bermuda in the hopes of enforcing it the world over, it’s impossible to stop people from using a certain recipe once it’s out there. At a certain point, it becomes public property. But when, exactly, does that point occur?”

Go here for her full story. And, while you’re at it, go here for my archive of cocktail recipes.

Check out my New York Drinks Events Calendar, the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere.

1 Comment

Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Cocktails, Legislation/Regulation


One response to “Can you copyright a cocktail recipe?

  1. Jay

    September 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm


    Just a note to say I like the new blog. Man, I wish I had time for all those events.

    Oh, and hey, on the issue of copyrighting, a buddy of mine and I got dibs (or should have) on “Barnstormer.” We came up with it one night after work in the winter of ’78-’79 in the bar we tended in Ithaca. It was in response to the Kamikaze craze; we felt bourbon deserved its due.

    It was elegantly simple: mix up a full shaker glass of bourbon Manhattans, dispense as shots. (We used the flying motif to echo the Kamikaze idea and the “barn” theme in a nod to bourbon’s country roots.)

    Apparently the name was appropriated for another drink involving crème de cacao, schnapps, and rye.

    Hmph. Pity.


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