OxyContin cocktail at CH Distillery: taste the trademark infringement

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CH Distillery makes vodka and has an attached cocktail bar with snacks.

CH Distillery makes vodka and has an attached cocktail bar with snacks. Photograph: Jaclyn Elizabeth Rivas


Delicious food and beverages are often offhandedly described as addictive or habit-forming. But restauranteurs seem to be taking the physiological effects of their menu offerings a little too literally. New York has had a rash of spots dealing "crack" foods, from crack pie to salted crack caramel ice cream to tuna on crack and crack steak sandwiches.

Now Chicago has its own faux narcotic in quaffable form: the OxyContin cocktail. Named, of course, after the widely abused brand of oxycodone, this gin-based drink's ingredient list is short, sweet and perfectly legal: a lapsang suchong tea infusion, ginger syrup, lemon and honey.

Month-old West Loop bar CH Distillery—which makes its spirits on site in pristine, lab-like environs that Walter White would be glad to cook in—concocted the drink as an update to the antibiotic-themed drink the Penicillin, which was first mixed in 2005 by Sam Ross of New York's Milk & Honey. A CH bartender tells me the cocktail's name came about in an effort to be "risqué," "amusing" and "to get people talking."

Sure, naming a cocktail after a painkiller that leads to thousands of fatal overdoses every year seems in poor taste—after all, the trend of deaths resulting from abuse of opiads like oxycodone recently motivated the Food and Drug Administration to step up restrictions on that category of drugs. But beyond being an example of misjudged marketing, CH's OxyContin cocktail could be a case of trademark infringement.

The brand name OxyContin is owned by the private Connecticut-based drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma. Jim Heins, the senior director at Purdue, wasn't amused by CH's "risqué" menu item. It did get the folks at Purdue talking, however. "We object to any unlicensed use of our trademark," Heins said via e-mail, "and particularly to this use."

Heins didn't say what, if any, action Purdue would take. But pharmaceutical companies tend to be touchy and litigious when it comes to unwarranted use of their brands. Recently, the makers of Xanax, Adderall and Vicodin threatened legal action against the L.A. boutique Kitson for selling T-shirts emblazoned with the companies' prescription drug names. In the meantime, you can still score OxyContin—the cocktail, that is—at CH Distillery.


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