What’s the difference between Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and Fireball Cinnamon? For starters, one has whiskey in it and the other, well, does not. But it’s admittedly easy to confuse the two.
That confusion is the subject of a new class-action lawsuit (pdf) against the Sazerac Company, the alcohol conglomerate behind Fireball, filed in federal district court in Chicago in early January. The lawsuit alleges that Sazerac violated multiple state consumer fraud laws, including the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
The two Fireball products come in bottles with similar shape and and design, but the one without whiskey is made from a “flavored malt beverage” and contains about half of the alcohol content.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs feel they were tricked into buying $0.99 miniature bottles of Fireball Cinnamon—often sold in gas stations and convenience stores that only carry beer and wine—thinking they contained whiskey.
What whiskey is—and isn’t
Under federal regulations in the US, whiskey is any spirit that is distilled from a fermented mash of grains and stored in oak barrels. It typically contains 40% alcohol by volume, also known as 80 proof. There are, of course, exceptions to these rules, as well as federal and local regulations about what constitutes different types of American whiskey such as bourbon and rye—but these guidelines generally determine what gets to be called whiskey and what doesn’t.
Fireball Cinnamon (sans whiskey) is made from either malt or wine and flavored to taste like real whiskey. The malt-based beverage is 16.5% alcohol by volume (or 33 proof) and the wine-based product is 21% alcohol by volume (or 42 proof), which puts the concoctions closer to the average glass of wine (about 22 proof) than an 80 proof whiskey.
“Fireball Cinnamon products are genuine malt-based or wine-based alcoholic beverages produced by the makers of Fireball Whisky,” the company writes on its website. “They have been developed using a proprietary recipe, capturing the essence of the Fireball Whisky taste experience consumers love.” Sazerac declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Even Fireball Cinnamon Whisky—the Fireball with whiskey—has a lower alcohol content than most whiskeys. It’s only 33% alcohol by volume (or 66 proof), according to Sazerac’s website.
But if you’re confused, well, so are we. But one thing is certain: Take a shot of whatever Fireball you can find and it’ll make more sense.