“The moment where it struck me is when someone sent me a [release] that had been syndicated on Yahoo,” says Larsen, one of the cofounders of Spiritless. “I was like, ‘What the heck, why is this guy talking about us?”
Around the same time, yet another press release announced the launch of NOLOalcohol, a new ecommerce marketplace for alcohol-free spirits. It had supposedly been founded by Sylvie Grattagliano, Reynald’s wife. (He says the couple is in the process of divorcing.)
The now-defunct site included products from a range of brands, but if you tried to add any of them to your cart, it would say they were out of stock—and invite you to try one of ArKay’s instead. Lancaster says that as the campaign intensified, she and her cofounders heard from several customers who thought they had bought Kentucky 74 but wound up never receiving anything, or receiving bottles that didn’t look right.
A week after NOLOalcohol launched, Grattagliano announced that a nonprofit corporation he had started, called the American Alcohol Free Spirits Association, would start to “hold brands accountable” for introducing nonalcoholic drinks that actually contained some alcohol. (Many of these brands are .5 percent alcohol by volume or less rather than literally alcohol-free; the Food and Drug Administration considers this to be a “trace amount,” and views them as nonalcoholic beverages.) The AAFSA soon announced investigations into Ritual Zero Proof and Seedlip, the latter of which it is accused of “IMPERSONATING REYNALD GRATTAGLIANO AND STEAL AWAY HIS IDEA.” Branson says he did not impersonate Grattagliano or steal his idea.
The AAFSA website currently lists Reyland Grattagliano as its sole founder. One of its only members appears to be an ecommerce site called Drinksalikes.com, which sells knockoff versions of Kentucky 74, ArKay, Seedlip, and Ritual Zero Proof, claiming on each product page that it is “not connected in any way” with any of the brands. The About page for Drinksalike.com includes a product photo of ArKay’s alcohol-free vodka and says, “Arkay started in our kitchen lab more than a decade ago.” Grattagliano acknowledged the site was his project but says, “So far we don’t promote it.”
Grattagliano may have come up with the concept for the AAFSA from his own experiences. In 2019, a trade group called the Scotch Whiskey Association said it was investigating ArKay over how the company had labeled its nonalcoholic version of whisky, arguing that it could mislead consumers and damage the reputation of the category. ArKay later said it had changed its product descriptions to emphasize that they weren’t actually made using the liquor.
Grattagliano has previously been accused of registering domain names associated with his competitors. In the late ’90s, when he was working in the perfume industry, Grattagliano and the businesses he ran were sued by at least two competitors for trademark infringement, according to public court records. One of the affected brands was Calvin Klein, which accused Grattagliano of creating a knockoff of its Ck One fragrance line. (He later agreed to stop producing it.)
The other was Jean Philippe Fragrances, which settled with Grattagliano—who has also gone by the name Reynald Katz—after accusing him of purposely buying up domain names that infringed on its trademarks, including jeanphilippefragrances.com and jeanphilippe.com.
Purchasing domains with other people’s trademarks in them is known as cybersquatting and is almost as old as the internet itself. In 1999, Congress outlawed the practice. But Grattagliano says he grabbed domains that correspond with other companies’ products before the trademarks were registered in the first place. “Many competitors are so much focused on destroying me that they forgot to register their trademarks and domain names,” says Grattagliano. “Therefore my job is to protect my business by securing and domain names.”