Waiting five years for a drink

— From Jesse Sommer

The New Scotland Spirits team, which, after a five-year distilling process, recently began selling its first batch of Helderberg premium whiskeys. From left, in front, Randy Miller, Rebecca (née Smolen) and Albert Miller; in the middle row, Patrick Carey, Jesse Sommer, and Bryan Kafka; and in back, Evangelos Dimitriadis and Ryan Lombardo. 

NEW SCOTLAND — In 2016, longtime friends Jesse Sommer and Patrick Carey started a liquor company whose name is an homage to the town where they grew up.

But soon after New Scotch, LLC filed trademark applications for some of its whiskeys, the New Scotland company drew unwanted attention from the Scotch Whisky industry’s powerful and litigious trade organization. 

New Scotch, LLC had attempted to trademark the names “Auld Lang Syne,” “New Scotch,” and “New Scotland Spirits.”

In July 2018, the company’s attorney received a letter from the Scotch Whisky Association telling it to cease and desist its attempts to trademark “Auld Lang Syne” and “New Scotch.”

The Scotch Whisky trademark is closely guarded by its trade group because of its singular importance to the Scottish economy, accounting for 1.4 percent of all United Kingdom exports in 2021, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

The whisky industry in Scotland is so deeply identified with the country and its people that, according to the Irish Times, “few organizations are as litigious” as the Scotch Whisky Association, which is “on the go around the world in a never-ending battle to protect its members’ brands and reputation.”

The most-recent Scotch Whisky Association legal report available prior to Sommer and Carey’s 2018 trademark application submissions, from 2015-16, said that the pace of work in the legal department had been relentless and “frenetic.” Twenty-two cases went to legal proceedings, according to the report, in Armenia, China, Ecuador, Germany, India, Italy, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Africa, and Spain. In addition, the legal department raised objections to over 238 trademark applications in 55 countries, the 2015-16 report said.

Four years after the company unwittingly picked a fight with the industry’s powerful trade group, New Scotch, LLC’s first whiskey offerings are being brought to market, albeit under different branding.

New Scotch, LLC was eventually able to enter into settlement negotiations with the Scotch Whisky Association, Sommer said, and in return for abandoning its trademark pursuits, the company could retain the so-called “New Scottish” imagery (men in kilts holding bagpipes taking in the view from Thacher Park of downtown Albany) for its Helderberg Single Malt whiskey. 

Sommer said New Scotch, LLC (the company’s incorporated name) was also able to keep using “Scotland,” a reference to its place of origin, as part of the company’s doing-business-as name, New Scotland Spirits. 

“The important thing for us was that the name ‘New Scotland Spirits’ be preserved,” Sommer told The Enterprise this week. 

Sommer, a lawyer who recently retired from his Army career, is a columnist for the paper.

Sommer credited his company’s partial success with the Scotch Whisky Association to an ability not to be buried by a litany of legal paperwork, an expensive process used by the well-funded as a means of making their unwanted problems go away.

“I think at some point, they realized … [the company] was not about to be intimidated, and [New Scotland Spirits] was able to respond to every one of the filings the Scotch Whisky Association made,” he said. “And at some point, they finally said, ‘OK, this clearly is not worth the squeeze.’”

The legal showdown placed the company on a new path with its “brand positioning,” Sommer said. “So, our company name is New Scotland Spirits, but the brands that we’ve taken to market are Helderberg Single Malt Whiskey and Helderberg Bourbon, Helderberg Straight Rye Whiskey, and Helderberg Winter Wheat Whiskey.”

The company started distilling liquor early in 2017, he said, with sales starting this past April. 

New Scotland Spirits had a first distilling of four barrels, Sommer said, there are 300 bottles in a barrel. “Then, shortly after that, we started doing four barrel runs at a time.” The company currently has 64 barrels in its inventory, he said. 

While the company anticipated its March bottling run would last through the summer, Sommer told The Enterprise by email, “It will barely last us 7 weeks.”

New Scotland Spirits are now sold at five local farmers’ markets, five liquor stores, and two bars and restaurants as well as through the company’s website.

But come July, Sommer said, “We are kick-starting our business when we’re kick-starting the sales effort.” That’s when Evangelos Dimitriadis, another New Scotland native, will join the company full-time, Sommer said, “spending his days moving this whiskey.”

As for the future, Sommer said he’d like New Scotland Spirits to be “everywhere in Albany County” by the end of 2023, “everywhere in New York” by the end of 2025, and “available in whiskey lounges across the United States” by the end of 2025 as well. 


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