“The moment it hit me was when someone gave me a [release] that was syndicated on Yahoo,” said Larsen, one of the co-founders of Spiritless. “I was like, ‘What the heck, why is this guy talking about us?'”
Around the same time, another press release announced the launch of NOLOalcohol, a new e-commerce marketplace for non-alcoholic spirits. It was supposedly founded by Sylvie Grattagliano, Reynald’s wife. (He says the couple is divorcing.)
The now-defunct site featured products from a range of brands, but if you tried to add one of them to your cart it would say they were out of stock – and would invite you to try one of ArKay’s instead . Lancaster says that as the campaign intensified, she and her co-founders heard from several customers who believed they bought Kentucky 74, but ended up never receiving anything, or receiving bottles that didn’t look right.
A week after NOLOalcohol launched, Grattagliano announced that a nonprofit organization he founded called the American Alcohol Free Spirits Association would begin “holding brands accountable” for introducing non-alcoholic beverages that actually contain some alcohol. (Many of these brands are 0.5 percent alcohol by volume or less rather than literally alcohol-free; the Food and Drug Administration considers this a “trace amount” and looks at them as non-alcoholic beverages.) The AAFSA soon announced investigations into Ritual Zero Proof and Seedlip, the latter of which accused the latter of “IMPLEMENTING REYNALD GRATTAGLIANO AND STOLE HIS IDEA.” Branson says he didn’t impersonate Grattagliano or steal his idea.
The AAFSA website currently lists Reyland Grattagliano as the sole founder. One of its only members appears to be an e-commerce site called Drinksalikes.com, which sells counterfeit versions of Kentucky 74, ArKay, Seedlip, and Ritual Zero Proof and claims on every product page that it is “in no way affiliated” with any of the brands . The About page for Drinksalike.com features a product photo of ArKay’s non-alcoholic vodka and says, “Arkay started over a decade ago in our kitchen lab.” Grattagliano acknowledged that the site was his project, but says, “We’re not promoting it until now.”
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 about how the company had labeled its non-alcoholic version of whiskey, arguing it could mislead consumers and damage the category’s reputation. . ArKay later said it had changed its product descriptions to emphasize that they weren’t actually made with the drink.
Grattagliano has previously been accused of registering domain names associated with its competitors. In the late 1990s, while working in the perfume industry, Grattagliano and the companies he ran were sued by at least two competitors for trademark infringement, according to public court records. One of the brands affected was Calvin Klein, who accused Grattagliano of creating a counterfeit of its Ck One fragrance line. (He later agreed to stop producing it.)
The other was Jean Philippe Fragrances, who dealt with Grattagliano — who also goes by the name Reynald Katz — after accusing him of deliberately buying up domain names that infringed on his trademarks, including jeanphilippefrangrances.com and jeanphilippe.com.
Buying domains with other people’s trademarks is known as cybersquatting and is almost as old as the internet itself. In 1999, Congress forbidden the exercise. But Grattagliano says he grabbed domains that matched other companies’ products before the trademarks were registered. “Many competitors are so focused on destroying me that they forgot to register their trademarks and domain names,” says Grattagliano. “That’s why it’s my job to protect my business by securing trademark and domain names.”