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Goose Island wins lawsuit over Bourbon barrel-aged stout beer

AB InBev-owned brewer Goose Island has won a lawsuit after two men sued the company for more compensation after purchasing bottles of its Bourbon County stout which had been contaminated with lactobacillus acetotolerans bacteria.

The bacteria, which is harmless, nevertheless causes sour off-flavours to the develop in the beer. Following the discovery, in 2016, of the contaminant in Goose Island’s 2015 Bourbon County Brand Stout beers as well its Bourbon County coffee stout and barleywine, the company undertook a voluntary refund programme, offering compensation to those that had purchased faulty bottles.

After the refund period had elapsed, in February 2017, Scott Kaplan and Jeff Roach claimed that they had been unable to claim their full refunds and sued Goose Island. They claimed the refund programme was “underpublicised and available for an unreasonably short period of time.” 

Kaplan bought 12 bottles of Bourbon County Brand Stout at US$12.99 per bottle, two bottles of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout at US10.99 per bottle and one bottle of Bourbon County Brand Barleywine for $18.99  – a total spend of $196.85.

Roach, on the other hand, purchased 32 bottles of Bourbon County Brand Stout, two bottles of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout and six bottles of Bourbon County Brand Barleywine which was estimated to cost between $12.00 to $15.00 per bottle, a total lay-out of around $600.

It is alleged that Kaplan was unable to participate in the refund programme while Roach only received a partial refund.

Goose Island denied that the scheme was under-publicised, but nevertheless sent both men a cheque for $3,000 and $5,000 respectively – the maximum amount recoverable under the Massachusetts statute at issue.

The brewery stated at the time: “Goose Island believes that the fixed submission period for refund requests related to the 2015 Bourbon County Stout release was a reasonable limitation, particularly when no safety or health issue was involved. Nonetheless, Goose Island has granted substantiated requests for refunds on the affected variants after the expiration of the deadlines in some instances. We likewise are willing to provide refunds to Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Roach. Enclosed for that purpose are checks payable to [each], respectively. These payments reflect the maximum amount potentially available to them under M.G.L. ch. 93A, plus additional funds to cover court costs and attorneys’ fees…”

However, the men rejected the cheques and in turn, Goose Island filed a motion to dismiss. The court subsequently found in Goose Island’s favour, agreeing to dismiss Kaplan and Roach’s claim.

The court document stated: “To the extent that the plaintiffs allege that they were injured by the “unfair” refund program, the injury they allege is that they were unable to fully participate in the refund program. Thus, their claim for damages is equivalent to the value of the beer for which they were unable to collect a refund, which is no more than the value of the beer that they purchased. In unconditionally tendering more than the maximum amount that plaintiffs could recover under ch. 93A (treble damages), Goose Island satisfied plaintiffs’ claims under the legal theories pled in Counts I-IV”.

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