U.S. marketers of Black Death to rename vodka Black Hat

May 13, 1992

LOS ANGELES -- The marketer of Black Death vodka said yesterday that it has agreed to sell the liquor in the United States under the name Black Hat, satisfying federal regulators who had concluded that the old label was illegal and misleading.

The announcement marked a capitulation by Black Death USA, which has imported the beet-based Belgian brew for a couple of years and has pitched it in advertising that featured Slash of the hard-rock group Guns N' Roses. The liquor's packaging was decorated with a smiling skull and coffin.

Earlier, the El Monte, Calif.-based marketer had vowed to challenge the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' April ruling rescinding the Black Death label. That ruling would have banned future imports.

It wasn't immediately clear from the announcement what changed Black Death USA's position or whether the marketer also will alter its name to Black Hat USA.

The bureau had determined that the Black Death name was a mocking reference to the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages and therefore gave a false impression to drinkers. The bureau said the label was inconsistent with the health warnings required on all alcoholic beverages sold in this country.

Black Death's trouble with the government was compounded by complaints from Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello that the liquor's marketing approach was a brazen appeal to underage drinkers.

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