Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 8-1-2022

Publication Citation

29 Indiana J. Global Legal Studies 213 (2022)


The term "bourbon" has become increasingly popular in markets all over the globe. The popularity of the bourbon trend has been exploited for both labelling liquors and describing nonalcoholic products. Bourbon has several separate definitions, usually differing on the issue of the geographical scope of the spirit's production. The bourbon liquor industry has experienced periods of significant downturn followed by periods of explosive revival, motivated mainly by foreign interest, from countries such as Japan, in the product In the 1970s, Japanese interest in whisky and US bourbon facilitated a resurgence of the then-struggling US bourbon industry. In 2018, production of bourbon reached its highest level since 1972. Compared to the exports of 1997, bourbon exports to foreign countries tripled in volume and price in 2018.

There are minimal legal protections currently available to America's bourbon producers to insulate their unique spirit from foreign competition. Despite successful adoption and use of geographical indications (GIs) in many countries, the United States has avoided employing GIs to insulate local products in international markets, with the exception of a few protections for regionally produced wines. GIs have been gaining significance as accessibility to international markets has increased substantially in recent years. In 2015, Japan joined the GI trend, agreeing to recognize GIs with the EU. Products such as Scotch whisky are recognized and protected as GIs in Japan. The previous year, the Japanese company Suntory acquired Jim Beam, a Kentucky-based company comprised of several well-known bourbon labels. The relationship between the US bourbon and Japanese whisky markets has a long history and an arguably longer future ahead.

Many of the arguments for the use of GIs have not been updated since countries such as Japan joined the international trend towards GI adoption. Thus, this paper will use the bourbon industry as an example to illustrate and further arguments presented by advocates of GIs. Looking to the successful adoption of GI agreements in Japan, this paper will highlight the benefits of participation in GI recognition and advocate for the US's entering into GI agreements with Japan and other international bodies generally.