Category archives for “TTB Law”

The Burden of Proof: TTB’s Annual Alcohol Sampling Program

April 20, 2016

Most of what consumers know about the alcoholic beverage products they buy comes from their interaction with the label, so it is important to get it right. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which regulates the labeling of most beverage alcohol products, recently released their annual alcohol beverage sampling program results, highlighting the most common compliance issues with drinks labels in the marketplace. Every year, the TTB conducts a random survey of alcoholic beverage products available for sale to the public. They select a range of brands across the distilled spirits, wine and malt beverage categories, and crosscheck the information on the label against the beverage in the bottle (or can, or alternative packaging). In 2015, well over a third of the distilled spirits and malt beverages surveyed were non-compliant (at 62 out of 154, and 61 out of 158 respectively), and just under a quarter of the wines were non-compliant (at 34 out of 138).

Many of the products in the market were found to have labels that were different from the certificates of label approval (COLAs) that the TTB had issued for those products. The TTB has worked hard in the last few years to balance its limited resources against ever increasing numbers of COLA submissions, and has published a long list of allowable changes that can be made to approved COLAs. However, some changes still require a new COLA. Some of the information on the label can be changed or removed, the shape and color can be altered, and statements and graphics can be moved, but it is difficult to add anything new without getting a new COLA.

Leaving aside COLA compliance, however, far and away the biggest issue identified by the TTB was related to the alcoholic content claims of the products surveyed. Each category of alcoholic beverages has some room to maneuver with the stated alcohol content. In particular, wine and malt beverages have greater tolerances, because the regulations recognize that they are products which can and often do continue to evolve in the bottle. However, even with these permitted tolerances, over 20% of the samples had a stated alcoholic content that was non-compliant. A table wine between 7% and 14% alcohol by volume (ABV), is allowed to be up to 1.5% either above or below the stated alcoholic content on the label (provided the wine remains in the same tax class, below 14%). Wine with over 14% alcohol can still be up to 1% over or under the stated amount. Malt beverages can be up to 0.3% different from the labeled ABV, either higher or lower. In contrast to the permitted variations for wine and beer, distilled spirits are not allowed to contain any alcohol over the stated ABV. The regulations reflect TTB’s view that there is no reason why distilled spirits should not be able to be accurately proofed upon completion of production. Spirits are allowed a small 0.15% tolerance below the labeled amount, which reduction is only to recognize possible losses during bottling. The proofing and gauging of distilled spirits is key to the TTB’s principal aim of protecting the revenue, and is directly linked to how much tax is paid by the producer. The TTB offers a range of resources to help producers and bottlers with that process, and it is important to ensure that care is taken when your product is labeled.

For any questions related to labeling of beverage alcohol, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


California Brewpub Licenses: What You Need to Know

October 08, 2015

Craft beer continues to be all the rage in California and across the country. With the increase in demand for local craft beers, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to get licensed as a brewery in California. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) issues three primary license types that permit beer production, including Beer Manufacturer licenses (Type 1), Small Beer Manufacturer licenses (Type 23) and the increasingly popular On-Sale General Brewpub license (Type 75). The license privileges of each type of brewery license vary, and the brewpub license is a good choice for brewers that primarily want to operate a brewpub or microbrewery restaurant rather than sell their beers for consumers to drink off the brewery’s premises.

A Type 75 brewpub license authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption at a bona fide eating place, which essentially requires that the facility be a restaurant with its own kitchen that serves meals. The ability to sell distilled spirits as a brewpub is a privilege that many find attractive in deciding between brewery licenses. Type 1 and Type 23 breweries may, but are not required to, operate bona fide eating places, but they are limited to beer and wine, and cannot sell distilled spirits. Additionally, beer, wine, and distilled spirits restaurant licenses (i.e., Type 47 On-Sale General for Bona Fide Public Eating Place) are often extremely expensive as the number of licenses issued is limited per county based on population. There is no cap on the number of Type 75 licenses that can be issued, so the Type 75 license can be an attractive option for businesses that want to sell distilled spirits, although all Type 75 licensees must meet certain brewing requirements.

Brewpubs must produce at least 100 barrels of beer per year and can produce no more than 5,000 barrels of beer per year. That production cap is substantially lower than the production allowances for Small Beer Manufacturers (less than 60,000 barrels per year) and Beer Manufacturers (60,000 barrels per year or more). Additionally, a Type 75 brewpub premises must have brewing equipment that has at least seven-barrel brewing capacity. The ABC has recently been looking into the brewing equipment of Type 75 licensees and enforcing against brewpubs that aren’t actually brewing beer or don’t have the requisite brewing capacity.

Other key features of Type 75 brewpub licenses include the following:

• Cannot make sales from the brewpub premises for off-premises consumption. This means that a brewpub cannot sell bottles, cans, growlers or other containers for consumption away from the brewpub.

• Can sell beer produced by the brewpub to California licensed wholesalers.

• Must buy all wine, distilled spirits, and beer not produced by the brewpub from a licensed wholesaler or winegrower. Note that brewpubs cannot buy or sell beer or other alcoholic beverages from other brewpubs or retailers.

The initial fee for a brewpub license is currently $12,000, which is more expensive than most California license types. The annual fee is determined by the population where the brewpub is located, and varies between approximately $500 and $1,000 per year. Additionally, local rules where the brewpub is located may require additional permitting or other approvals before the brewpub can operate. Lastly, all breweries, including brewpubs, must obtain a brewery basic permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade bureau, the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages. There is no fee for the federal permit, but a bond is required.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about starting a brewery!


Beer that isn’t Beer, Wine that isn’t Wine and Drinks that aren’t Beverages

April 27, 2015

Mostly in our practice at Strike & Techel we work with clients making fairly traditional alcoholic beverage products, albeit with new flavors, production methods and quality drivers. These classic alcoholic beverages are distilled spirits, wines and beers, subject to regulation by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). More and more, however, we are called upon to work with alcohol products that fall outside the TTB’s jurisdiction, either because they don’t meet traditional definitions, or because they simply aren’t classified as beverages.

Products that do not fit within TTB jurisdiction are subject to Food & Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements. Under TTB rules, wine must contain at least 7% alcohol, and beer must be malt-based. Because of these restricted definitions, common examples of drinks that are subject to FDA rules are wine coolers and ciders below 7% alcohol, and beers that aren’t made with malt. Any beers made with other grains, like sorghum, rice or wheat (usually to be sold as “gluten free” products), are under FDA rules. These beverages do not need to obtain label approval, as a standard alcoholic beverage would, but must comply with FDA rules on labeling, to avoid in-market audits for violations. In December 2014, the FDA finally published its guidance for industry on the labeling of non-malt-based beers, which had been in draft form since 2009 (LINK). It helpfully goes through all of the FDA labeling requirements that apply to such beers. These are the same requirements that apply to any FDA-regulated alcoholic beverage, including many ready to drink (RTD) beverages, as discussed in our recent blog post (LINK). Among the key distinctions from standard alcoholic beverage labeling are that the label must include an ingredient list and a nutritional statement.

As well as regulating alcoholic beverages, FDA also regulates certain non-beverage alcoholic products. These are products which are consumed – often as cocktail ingredients – but which are not classified as beverages by the TTB because they have been deemed “unfit” for beverage purposes under TTB regulations. Common examples of these products are bitters and other alcohol-based flavorings. Attaining non-beverage status is a goal rather than a failure for these products because products eligible for non-beverage status are exempt from payment of federal excise taxes and they can be sold by retailers without an alcoholic beverage license. Products with a lot of sugar or other flavorings or ingredients that serve to make them more palatable as beverages may not make the cut as non-beverages and would remain subject to excise taxes and TTB label jurisdiction.

TTB and FDA classifications of alcoholic products have significant implications on the way they are labeled, taxed and sold, so it is important to submit these products for TTB review before bringing them to market.

For more advice on alcoholic beverages and non-beverages, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 • All Rights Reserved •


Changes to Small Brewery, Winery and Distillery Bonding, Reporting and Filing Requirements

March 11, 2015

The general rule for excise tax reporting for alcohol producers is that returns must be filed semi-monthly (i.e. twice a month). A special exception to that rule allows a small producer, who does not reasonably expect to be liable for more than $50,000 in excise tax in the year, to file quarterly returns. Each small producer is required to make a choice of whether to file quarterly or semi-monthly, with that choice impacting the bonding requirements for the production facility. The less frequent the excise tax payment, the higher the required bond amount. Very small wineries currently benefit from even longer reporting and tax deadlines. Wineries that expect to pay less than $1,000 in wine excise taxes in the coming year may file excise tax returns annually. Operations reports may also be filed annually if the winery doesn’t expect to produce more than 20,000 gallons of wine in any one month in the calendar year.

Now, under recent guidance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”), small brewers will be forced to file returns quarterly rather than semi-monthly. This change will affect around 90% of licensed brewers. With the mandatory quarterly filing, the required bond is set at a flat $1,000 amount (previously, the bond for a brewer paying $50,000 in excise tax would have been $5,000 if filing semi-monthly, and close to $15,000 if filing quarterly). A brewery filing quarterly tax returns must also file a quarterly report of operations. To further lessen the burden of reporting for both brewers and TTB employees, the information required in the reports has been revised, with two sections removed. To see the full guidance, click here.

In addition to the TTB changes for small breweries, there is also a bill pending in the Senate that could reduce the compliance burden for all small producers. It would exempt small breweries, wineries and distilleries (i.e. not liable for more than $50,000 in excise tax in the year) from all current bonding requirements and would allow any small producer – not just small wineries—owing less than $1,000 a year to file annually. The proposal passed the Senate Finance Committee on February 11, 2015, and is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. It has not yet been introduced in the House.

If you have any questions about brewery, winery or distillery operations reporting or taxes, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 • All Rights Reserved •


Compliance Check-In: 2014 TTB Beverage Sample Program Results

February 02, 2015

Each year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), conducts a random sampling of alcoholic beverages, known as the Alcohol Beverage Sample Program. TTB agents purchase alcohol products from retail stores and take them back to the TTB lab for review. The survey identifies compliance issues with the tested beverages, including incorrect alcohol content levels, and Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) discrepancies. The TTB recently released the results of their 2014 review, finding 139 out of 450 total products sampled to be non-compliant.

The most commonly identified issue was mislabeled alcohol percent by volume (ABV), in which the ABV stated on the label was either above or below the actual tested alcohol content. In distilled spirits products, 42 of the 190 beverages sampled were found to contain an ABV over the advertised content, while 14 products contained a lower ABV than advertised. Aside from misleading the consumer, incorrect ABVs can lead to regulatory action from federal tax authorities if the actual alcohol content would place the product in a different tax class.

Another common compliance issue was a discrepancy between the product’s label information and the information listed on the product’s COLA. When a bottler or importer applies for label approval with the TTB, they are issued a COLA and their product’s label must match the information provided on their COLA application (with the exception of some limited information which can be changed without a new COLA). Of the 139 non-compliant products, 40 had labels with missing or added information that did not match their approved COLA.

Other prevalent compliance issues included no COLA for the product, errors in the mandatory government warning message, and incorrect statements of class or type of alcohol. Possible TTB actions in response to incorrectly labeled products could include monetary fines and other regulatory penalties, and at a minimum, would require that the non-compliant labels be corrected. To see the full results of the sample program, click here.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved ·


What is in the Bottle? Rules for California Appellations on Wine Labels

November 10, 2014

Appellations of origin are the place names that describe where the grapes that make up a given wine were grown. There are rules controlling the statement of appellation on the label, all of which are aimed at making sure that the label of the product accurately reflects what is inside the bottle. Most of the appellation labeling rules are in the Code of Federal Regulations at 27 CFR Part 4, but state law must also be considered, and can sometimes be more limiting than the federal rules.

Appellations are required on wines if the label also includes a varietal designation or a vintage year (27 CFR 4.34(b)). The chart below lists some of the basics on appellations for wines made from California grapes.

Federal Rules

Appellation on Label What is in the Bottle?
California 75% of the fruit must be from California and the wine must be finished within California or an adjoining state. (27 CFR 4.25)
A County in California 75% of the fruit has to be from the county and the wine has to be finished in California. (27 CFR 4.25)
Two or Three Counties in California All of the fruit has to come from the listed counties, the percentage of fruit from each county has to be listed on the label, and the wine has to be finished in California. No more than three counties can be listed. (27 CFR 4.25)
An American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California AVAs are specific geographic areas approved by the TTB. A list of all of the AVAs in the country is available here. 85% of the fruit has to come from the AVA and the wine has to be finished in California. (27 CFR 4.25)


Special California Requirements

Appellation on Label Special California Rule
“California” or any geographical subdivision of California (including a county or two or three counties) 100% of fruit must come from California. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 17, § 17015). This rule is more specific than the federal rules, and means that any wine with a California appellation of any kind must be made from 100% California fruit.
“Sonoma County” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within Sonoma County. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25246)
“Napa Valley” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within Napa County. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25240)
“Lodi” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within the Lodi AVA (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25245)
“Paso Robles” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within the Paso Robles AVA (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25244)
“Napa”, “Sonoma” and any AVA in Napa County The rules for using “Napa,” “Sonoma,” and any AVAs in Napa are especially strict. Those terms cannot appear on the labels unless the wine in the bottle qualifies for use of the term under the federal labeling regulations.(Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25241, 25242 and 27 CFR 4.25)
Counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, San Benito, Solano, San Luis Obispo, Contra Costa, Monterey or Marin Any written representation (e.g., labels, advertising, company letterhead, etc.) that a wine is produced entirely from grapes grown in these counties must be true. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25237)
“California Central Coast Counties Dry Wine” This designation can only appear on a label if all of the grapes are from the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, San Benito, Solano San Luis Obispo, Contra Costa, Monterey or Marin. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25236)

Related Labeling Considerations

The appellation rules noted above are intertwined with other federal labeling regulations, which may also come into play. For example, if a label includes a varietal and an appellation, 75% of the grapes used in the wine must be of the stated grape type and all of those grapes must come from the stated appellation. (27 CFR 4.23) If the label includes a vintage year and an appellation, 85% of the grapes in the wine must be from the stated vintage year – and if the appellation is an AVA, the percentage requirement rises to 95%. (27 CFR 4.27)

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Loosens the Reins on Malt Beverage Formula Requirements

June 16, 2014

In an industry ruling issued June 5, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced that malt beverages made with certain ingredients, including honey and certain fruits and spices, would no longer be subject to formula approval requirements. Additionally, the ruling exempts beer aged in barrels previously used in the production of wine or distilled spirits from the need to get a formula approval. Under the TTB regulations, ingredients and processes used in the production of malt beverages must be deemed “traditional” in order to be exempt from formula and certain labeling requirements. Until the ruling was issued, TTB had a very limited view of what met the requirements for “traditional” malt beverage production.

The ruling stems from a years long battle with the Brewer’s Association, which petitioned back in 2006 and 2007 to exempt certain ingredients and processes from rigorous approval requirements in light of growing experimentation and trends in the beer industry. The petition identified the most popular ingredients and processes, and urged the TTB to broaden their definition of “traditional” brewing methods. Initially, the TTB gave a limited response and exempted beers with added brown sugar, candy sugar or lactose from approval and special labeling requirements. With the new ruling, the options for adding ingredients to standard beers and other malt beverages without needing to go through the formula approval process are greatly expanded. Additionally, there is an opportunity for brewers to request exemption from formula requirements even if their ingredients are not already on the approved list. A full list of the approved ingredients and processes can be viewed here.

Before the ruling, if flavors were added before, during, or after the fermentation process, that had to be included on the label. Now, the requirement for flavors is that the statement be truthful and in accordance with trade understanding. So for example, a brewer cannot say “ale brewed with cherries” if the cherries were added after the brewing process. To be clear, a statement must still appear on the label to show the addition of any non-standard beer ingredient; the ruling now simply allows for more relaxed processing and avoids the need for formula approval.

The TTB’s expanded ruling of “traditional” brewing ingredients and methods bodes well for brewers and importers looking to get a quick(er) approval for their products and will help speed up all formula approvals due to the reduced TTB workload. Currently approved formulas and labels will not be affected by the ruling.

For questions about brewing requirements, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


More New York Industry Guidance on Limited Availability, Brand Registration and more

June 03, 2014

Following our blog post on May 6 (http://strikeandtechel.com/imbiblog/nysla-expands-suppliers-ability-to-entertain-consumers/), regarding the new advisory from New York covering supplier events, here are some more advisories recently published by New York. The advisories summarized here cover limited availability items and closeout sales, new brand registration rules, growler information for beer and cider, and the use of third party agents for consumer tastings.

Limited Availability Items – #2014-5

New York is one of a number of states around the country which continues to require its wholesalers to post prices for wine and spirits around five weeks in advance of sale. The retail posted pricing (from in-state manufacturers and wholesalers to retailers) is available to any retailer who wants to buy the products at the posted price. In the case of products with limited availability, or in the case of closeout sales with limited inventory, the SLA published an advisory in 2013 and now replaces it with this one.

A limited availability item is one where the New York manufacturer or wholesaler believes that demand will exceed supply. As an exception to the general, and strongly enforced, rule against channel pricing, limited availability items can be allocated differently between on- and off-premises retail buyers. A closeout sale occurs when the manufacturer or wholesaler intends to sell its entire remaining inventory of an older or seasonal item at a price at least 10% lower than the last posted price.

In the case of limited availability items, the SLA is switching over the whole current price posting system to create a new category for these types of items. The new system will allow a manufacturer or wholesaler to indicate how it will allocate limited availability items. The system will also allow a manufacturer or wholesaler to move items to limited availability after prices have been posted if there is an exceptional event like a high score from a trade or consumer publication or a celebrity endorsement. In the advisory, the SLA gives a number of examples of allocation methods which are permitted.

Brand Label Registration – #2014-7

In addition to federal certificate of label approval (COLA) requirements from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), New York requires brand labels to be registered with the state for almost all alcoholic beverages. Wines over 7% alcohol which have a COLA do not generally need to be registered. Many of the changes in the new advisory parallel recent TTB changes allowing a number of label alterations without requiring a new COLA.

Brand labels must contain the brand or trade name, the class and type of alcoholic beverage, the net contents and other labeling information required for a COLA. If there is any change to the brand name, the flavor description, age or geographic appellation, or if qualifiers like “kosher” or “organic” are added to a label, a new registration must be obtained. If the alcoholic content of a brand registered product changes more than 1.5%, or 0.5% in the case of a cider or a “wine product,” a new registration must be obtained. Unlike wine, “wine products” can be sold in grocery stores if they meet the state-specific definition, which requires things like carbonation and added flavoring materials. Registrations are filed by the brand owner, if they are a New York licensee, or otherwise by the New York wholesaler appointed by the brand owner to post prices for and sell the product.

Brand label registrations are valid for a set calendar year depending on the type of alcoholic beverage. Current registrations will remain in effect until they expire and will then be transitioned to the new schedule. There will be additional use-up periods allowed for non-compliant products.

Private labels owned by retailers who sell them exclusively are exempt from price posting requirements. The labels do not have to contain the retailer’s name, but the brand name must belong to the retailer or the retailer must have the legal right to use the name. A retailer can license the brand name from another entity but cannot license a brand name belonging to a manufacturer or wholesaler. The use of terms like “exclusively bottled for” or “exclusive to” cannot be used to try and create a private brand label for a retailer.

Growlers – #2014-11

The advisory covers the sale of beer and cider in growlers by off premise retailers authorized to sell those beverages and confirms that liquor and wine cannot be sold in growlers in New York. In the case of beer and cider, either the consumer can provide the container or the retailer can. Due to local open container laws, retailers serving growlers should provide sealed containers where applicable.

Authorized Agents for Tastings and Bottle Sales – #2014-13

Certain New York licensees, and certain out-of-state suppliers with supplier marketing permits, are allowed to provide tastings in accordance with an advisory published in July 2013. This new advisory confirms that the licensee or supplier can use another manufacturer or wholesaler licensee as its agent for such a tasting. The only exception is that a beer wholesaler is not allowed to act as an agent for a brewer.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Reconsiders Use of “Estate Bottled” Following a Winery Sale

May 21, 2014

To be labeled as “estate bottled,” a wine must be, among other things, made from grapes grown in an American Viticultural Area, on land that is owned or “controlled by” the winery, and the winery must crush, finish, age and bottle the wine in a continuous process.

Previous guidance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) suggested that a wine would not be entitled to use the “estate bottled” designation if a change of ownership of the winery occurred at any point during the winemaking process, because the new owner technically would not have “controlled” all phases of the process. To address this issue, sellers and buyers of wineries that produce “estate bottled” wines would sometimes enter into an Alternating Proprietorship Agreement (“AP”) whereby the seller would maintain its bonded winery operations until all wine in process at the winery as of the closing date had been bottled and labeled. This approach was difficult for both sellers and buyers, given that the AP could be in effect for a lengthy period of time depending on which stage of production the “estate bottled” wine was in.

In a recent private letter ruling, the TTB advised that it has reconsidered its position and that the proprietor of a winery can use an “estate bottled” designation for wine that was grown and fermented by a predecessor proprietor and bottled by a new proprietor (provided the wine also met the other requirements under 27 C.F.R. § 4.26). The ruling provides that the ownership of a winery may change while the wine is in process as long as the bottling winery does not change. The TTB further explains that the definition of “controlled by” refers to the land on which the grapes are grown and the winery operates, as opposed to the owner of such land. With a change in winery ownership, the “estate” land is not altered, and thus the new owner can maintain the “estate bottled” designation.

This guidance from the TTB should come as a welcome relief to potential purchasers and sellers of wineries that produce “estate bottled” wines.

For questions about the acquisition or sale of a winery, please contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Updates its Position on Gluten-Free Label Claims

February 11, 2014

On Tuesday, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) issued an Announcement regarding its treatment of “gluten-free” claims on alcoholic beverage labels. As we previously blogged here, TTB has been looking into the issue of gluten-free labeling since at least 2012, and TTB Ruling 2012-2 implemented a policy of allowing the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For products made from gluten-containing materials, the 2012 Ruling implemented several requirements, including: a) a statement that the product is “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten;” b) a qualifying statement to inform consumers that (i) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten, (ii) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products, and (iii) the finished product may contain gluten; and, c) a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

TTB explains in its most recent announcement that it has finished its review of the FDA’s rule on gluten-free labeling, and has updated its requirements accordingly. TTB will continue to allow the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. However, for products made from gluten-containing materials, TTB has lessened the labeling requirements, and now provides that such products may be labeled with a statement that the product was “processed, “treated” or “crafted” to remove gluten, if that claim “is made together with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten.” Labels no longer require a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

If you have any questions about alcoholic beverage labeling, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


Dan Kramer Featured in The San Francisco Examiner!

February 03, 2014

Strike & Techel’s own Dan Kramer was featured in an article in Sunday’s San Francisco Examiner. Dan was interviewed for the article “Want to be in the booze business in SF? Better know the law” in which he discusses his experience in the alcoholic beverage industry, including the complications and expenses of obtaining a retail license in San Francisco, California promotional issues, as well as distribution and direct shipping. As Dan pointed out, alcoholic beverage legal issues can not only be complicated, but they are often not on people’s radar as they venture into the industry. If you’re just getting started in the industry or have any questions about retail licensing, distribution, direct shipping, or just about anything else in the industry, call Dan or one of the other attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved


Getting Started in the Business: Licensing

December 12, 2013

This blog entry is part of a continuing series discussing important steps to get started in the alcoholic beverage industry. Once you have pinpointed a location for your business (discussed in a previous post, here), you will need to obtain a license, or a combination of licenses, before you commence operations. To determine what type(s) of license(s) you need, here are some answers to questions you may be asking:

* Do the Tied-House Laws Permit Me to Hold the Licenses I Want? Federally and across all states, “tied house” laws generally prohibit the same person or entity from having an ownership interest in alcohol beverage businesses in more than one of the 3 tiers -manufacturing/importing, distribution and retail. (To learn more about tied house laws, review this post.) However, that restriction is far from absolute. Many statutory exceptions have been carved out of the 3-tier system to permit cross-tier licensing and the resulting patchwork of exceptions can be difficult to comprehend. For example, in California, wineries can also own restaurants (subject to restrictions) and certain off-sale retail stores. Small breweries (less than 60,000 barrels/year) can own on-sale retailers but large breweries cannot. Beer and wine wholesalers cannot also be retailers, unless they sell only wine through the retail store. Other states have their own set of hard-to-explain exceptions.

* What Does My License Permit Me to Do? The general rule is that manufacturers sell to wholesalers; wholesalers sell to retailers; and retailers sell to consumers. But this, too, is riddled with exceptions. California wineries and breweries can sell their products directly to retailers and consumers without using a distributor, but distilled spirits manufacturers can sell only to distributors and cannot themselves hold a distributor license. Rectifiers, on the other hand, can act as their own distributor and sell their products – and spirits products made by anyone else – directly to retailers. Moreover, you may need more than one license to operate your business. For example, if you are going to be operating a distillery, you will need a Type 4 (Distilled Spirits Manufacturer’s license), and a Type 6 (Still) license. If you are importing distilled spirits from outside of California and distributing them to retailers you’ll need a Type 12 (Distilled Spirits Importer), and a Type 18 (Distilled Spirits Wholesaler). California issues dozens of different licenses so it is important to know exactly what you want to do, which licenses are needed to accomplish it, and whether you are eligible to hold them.

* What are the Processing Times to Obtain a License? In California, it takes about 90-120 days to process an application for a new license, and slightly less time to transfer an existing license at a premises that is already licensed. It will take longer to process an application that is incomplete, contested by neighboring residents or the local authorities, or filed incorrectly. Also keep in mind that the ABC cannot issue a license until it has received confirmation from the City/County that all required use permits have been obtained. Each applicant will be assigned a local ABC investigator to handle the application until the process is completed. Currently, U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (“TTB”) licenses are processing in about 90 days, similar to California licenses.

* May I Obtain a Temporary Permit? Provided that you are transferring an existing license at an already licensed premises, the California ABC may grant a temporary permit so you may operate your business while the license transfer application is being processed. A temporary permit is not available in connection with applications for new licenses or applications to transfer existing licenses to a premises that has not been previously licensed.

* What Are the Costs Involved? Depending on what type(s) of license(s) applied for, the cost can vary considerably. A schedule of license costs is available here. Some retail licenses are limited in numbers and must be purchased on the open market. Prices for these licenses vary greatly by type and location. For instance, a Type-47 (On-sale general eating place) may sell for $200,000 in San Francisco, whereas the same type of license in Fresno County currently only costs $12,000.

In conjunction with your ABC application, you may also need to obtain other federal, state or local licenses/permits. In California this may include, for example: federal licenses through the TTB; a certification from the Secretary of State that you are qualified to do business in the state; and a sales tax permit from the State Board of Equalization.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about applying for a license to get started in the alcohol beverage business.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·


Federal Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau (‘TTB’) Shut Down

October 01, 2013

Effective October 1, 2013 TTB has suspended operations as part of the federal government shutdown. TTB.gov remains operable and industry members can continue to file electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes online. However, all E-applications including Permits Online, Formulas Online and COLAs Online are unavailable. Please refer to the TTB’s cessation notice here.

What does this mean for Industry Members? The short answer is that processing times will slow or stop until funding has been restored. It is still too soon to tell what the long term impacts will be, but in the short term we anticipate significant delays in the issuance of basic permits, label approvals and formula approvals. We’ll keep you posted as the situation develops.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Issues Guidance on Social Media Advertising

July 09, 2013

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) recently released Industry Circular 2013-1, “Use of Social Media in the Advertising of Alcohol Beverages.” Most importantly, TTB dispels any notions that the advertising regulations in 27 CFR parts 4 (wine), 5 (distilled spirits), and 7 (malt beverages) don’t apply to social media, and confirms that those rules “apply to all advertisements… in any media, including social media.” The Circular goes on to address unique issues for advertising within specific social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

TTB regulations define an advertisement as “any written or verbal statement, illustration, or depiction which is in, or calculated to induce sales in, interstate or foreign commerce, or is disseminated by mail, whether it appears in a newspaper, magazine, trade booklet, menu, wine card, leaflet, circular, mailer, book insert, catalog, promotional material, sales pamphlet, or any written, printed, graphic, or other matter accompanying the container, representations made on cases, billboard, sign, or other outdoor display, public transit card, other periodical literature, publication, or in a radio or television broadcast, or in any other media.” Content that qualifies as an advertisement must contain certain information, including a responsible advertiser statement that includes the name and address of the industry member responsible for the ad, as well as the product’s class, type, or distinctive designation. Certain content is also prohibited from appearing in ads, such as statements that are false, that disparage a competitor’s product, or that are obscene or indecent.

TTB’s Circular addresses how the advertising regulations apply to specific social media platforms. Particularly relevant points include the following:

- Facebook: A “fan page” constitutes one advertisement, so mandatory statements need to appear only once on a page, and should appear on the industry member’s “profile page;” rules on prohibited content apply to all material posted by the industry member, including material the industry member re-posts.

- Twitter: Mandatory statements are not required in each tweet, and instead must appear on the industry member’s profile page or equivalent.

- YouTube and other video-sharing websites: Videos that fit the definition of an advertisement must include mandatory statements within the actual video, not only on the page where the video is located.

- Blogs: Industry member blogs qualify as ads to which the rules on mandatory and prohibited content apply.

- Mobile Applications: Apps must include the company name or brand name of the product advertised.

The main take-away from TTB’s Circular is that industry members should monitor all social media channels to ensure that content complies with TTB regulations. Consult TTB’s guidance or call one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for guidelines on advertising through a particular social media platform.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Says Alcohol Content Can Move to the Back Label for Wine

June 10, 2013

Announced today, and effective August 9, 2013, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (the TTB) has announced changes to its labeling requirements for wine. Amending 27 CFR 4.32, the alcohol content for wine no longer must appear on the brand label, and instead it may be printed on the brand label or on other labels affixed to the bottle, including the back label. The TTB also amended 27 CFR 4.36 to the effect that wines with alcohol content of at least 7 percent and no more than 14 percent may still be labeled with either (a) the designation of “light wine” or “table wine” on the brand label, or (b) the numerical alcohol content of the wine. The new amendments do not permit the “light wine” or “table wine” designations to appear on any label other than the brand label. A new COLA is not required if the only change made to an approved label is the relocation of the alcohol content statement. If you have any questions about labeling, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·


Food Safety Modernization Act Facility Renewals Due Now

December 27, 2012

The Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”) was passed into law in early 2011 and amends parts of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The act’s purpose, which we previously blogged about here, is to ensure that food produced in the U.S. or imported into the U.S. meets safety standards. The FSMA and related FDA laws include alcohol in the definition of “food,” and a “Food Facility” includes any “factory, warehouse, or establishment (including a factory, warehouse, or establishment of an importer) that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food,” not including restaurants and other retail food establishments. Accordingly, many in the alcohol industry stand to be affected by the FSMA, including wineries, breweries, distilled spirits plants, alcohol beverage distributors, importers, warehouses, and wholesalers.

Prior to the enactment of the FSMA, Food Facilities were required to register with the FDA one time only, and no renewal was required. Food Facilities are now required to renew their FDA registrations every two years, and the first renewal is required by December 31, 2012. However, the FDA’s registration renewal website was not available on October 1, 2012, when renewal was scheduled to open, leaving many scrambling to meet the deadline. The FDA has not formally extended the renewal deadline, but it recently confirmed that it would “exercise enforcement discretion” through January 31, 2013. Specifically, the FDA’s guidance provides that “because there was a delay in FDA’s implementation of biennial registration renewal for the 2012 cycle, and registration renewal did not become available until October 22, 2012, FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to registration renewals submitted to FDA after December 31, 2012 for a period of 31 days, until January 31, 2013.”

FDA renewals can be completed online, but a registrant’s FDA number and login information is required before the process can be completed. Detailed guidance on the FSMA and the renewal process is available here. Contact one of the attorney’s at Strike & Techel if you have questions about the FSMA.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Allows Beer Returns Based on Freshness Dating

December 19, 2012

In response a request from industry members, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) recently issued Ruling 2012-4, which addresses whether brewers may require wholesalers to pull beer from retailers that is past its freshness date and replace it with fresh beer. Many beers now include freshness dates, and some brewers ask distributors to remove beer from the retail market that is past its freshness date. Brewers argue that this ensures that consumers get fresh product, but the practice is arguably at odds with laws prohibiting consignment sales.

The FAA act makes it unlawful for industry members, including beer producers, importers, and wholesalers, to sell, offer for sale, or contract to sell to any retailer on consignment, under conditional sale, with the privilege of return, or on any basis otherwise than a bona fide sale. See 27 U.S.C. § 205(d). There are limited exceptions to this prohibition, but only for those “ordinary and usual commercial reasons” included in 27 C.F.R. §§ 11.32 – 39. The limited exceptions when an industry member may accept a return include: a) defective product, b) shipment error, c) change in law preventing the sale of a product, d) termination of the buyer’s business or franchise, e) change in product from that held in inventory, and f) possible spoilage of product during the off-season of a seasonal retailer.

None of the exceptions to the consignment sales law clearly applies to returns based on freshness dating, thus prompting the TTB’s Ruling. The Ruling makes clear that under certain conditions, returns based on freshness dating are permitted under the exception for “defective products” found in 27 C.F.R. § 11.32. Those conditions are as follows:

- The brewer has policies and procedures in place that specify the date after which the retailer must pull the product;

- The brewer’s freshness return/exchange policies and procedures are readily verifiable and consistently followed by the brewer;

- The container has identifying markings that correspond with this date; and

- The malt beverage product pulled by the retailer may not re-enter the retail marketplace.

Finally, the TTB noted that wholesalers may not force retailers to overstock the wholesaler’s products under the pretext that the retailer may exchange product based on the freshness date, and that such practices would violate consignment sale and tied-house laws.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about TTB rules and regulations.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


Do “Illegal” Alcohol Sales Create Trademark Rights? The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Says Maybe

November 26, 2012

As more and more beverage brands are introduced into the U.S., it is becoming increasingly difficult for suppliers to come up with unique trademarks that do not infringe marks already in use by others. As a result, trademark disputes involving alcohol beverage brands are common. Such disputes typically come down to the issue of priority of use – if the marks and the products are very similar, i.e., both are alcoholic beverages – the party with first commercial use will have priority and will likely be entitled to register the trademark. One of the fundamental elements used to prove first-use for alcohol products and to establish priority over other users is the date on which a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) was issued. As most alcoholic beverage producers and importers are aware, a COLA is required before alcohol products can be legally imported or sold in the U.S. Sales of such products without a COLA would constitute an illegal sale under 27 CFR 4.50 (wine) 5.51 (distilled spirits) and 7.41 (beer). Because sales of a product without a COLA are not legal sales, they do not constitute bona fide use in commerce and may not be relied upon in establishing trademark priority. At least, that’s what many of us thought. But a recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) suggests otherwise.

In an opposition proceeding involving the PARLAY trademark, both parties were using the same trademark on wines and the parties disagreed on who had priority. The opposer argued that the earliest use date relied on by the other party was actually before the labels had been issued a COLA; therefore, they were unlawful and did not count for trademark priority. But the TTAB ruled against the opposer, noting that even if sales without a COLA were not strictly compliant with the federal labeling regulations, that was not sufficient to deny that user priority rights. Rather, the opposing party is required to show either: (1) that a court or regulatory body had made a formal determination of non-compliance, or (2) that the improper usage was so “tainted” it could not create trademark rights. In other words, if the labels were otherwise approvable and not misleading or deceptive to consumers, sales of those products without a COLA may still be used to establish priority, even though not technically legal. In the PARLAY case, the TTAB also noted the Draconian result of denying priority because of a regulatory lapse occurring several years before. The TTAB decision is non-precedential, so it’s not binding and future decisions of the TTAB may come out differently. But for those of us who frequently scan the TTB COLA registry to determine trademark priority, this decision is of great interest.

For trademark or COLA help, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


Maybe That’s Not Beer You’re Drinking

August 16, 2012

A professor once told me: “Always define your terms.” That statement rings true in much of the law and it turns out, also for beer. In today’s age of health consciousness and gluten intolerances, beers crafted from sorghum, rice, or wheat are starting to make inroads into the mainstream market. But from the perspective of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”), those products don’t qualify as “malt beverages.” Only beverages made from both malted barley and hops meet the definition of “malt beverage” under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (“FAA Act”). Thus, the labeling regulations that apply to these non-traditional beer products actually come from the Food and Drug Administration, as opposed to the TTB. Some TTB/FAA Act requirements do still apply – namely the government health warning and product classification required by the Internal Revenue Code to ensure proper tax classification and collection. Additionally, formula approval may be required through the TTB.

Wine beverages containing less than 7% alcohol by volume, such as many wine coolers and cider products are also subject to FDA labeling requirements because their low alcohol content causes them to fall outside of the TTB/FAA Act definition of “wine” and therefore outside of TTB’s labeling jurisdiction. Note that although sake is made from rice, it’s considered a wine product for labeling purposes and a malt beverage for tax purposes (confusing, right?), so it falls under the TTB/FAA Act labeling requirements, provided the product contains 7% or more alcohol by volume. How to identify these new products as “gluten-free” remains difficult as no final guidance has yet been issued by the FDA or TTB about the true definition of “gluten-free.” For more information about using “gluten-free” on alcoholic beverage labels, see our post from earlier this year. The landscape for labeling these non-traditional products is complicated. If you have questions, feel free to contact a Strike & Techel attorney.


TTB Implements Changes to Break COLA Logjam

July 11, 2012

TTB recently released a new Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) form for alcoholic beverage labels, Form 5100.31, available here. The new form has several minor changes, but the most significant update is the expansion of the revisions that can be made to an approved label without having to submit a new COLA application. The new form should be a welcome change for industry members, who can now make more modifications to existing labels without waiting for TTB to approve the changes. The change is expected to significantly reduce the number of COLA applications submitted to TTB, thus reducing the turnaround time for new labels. The form became official early this month, and among the new revisions permitted to labels without the requirement of a new COLA application are:

- Re-position of label information, including text, illustrations, and graphics.

- Change of colors (background and text), font type and size, spelling and punctuation, and change from an adhesive label to one that is etched, painted, or printed directly on the container.

- Add a vintage date for wine labels (note that changing or deleting a vintage date was previously permitted, and the new form is only a change to the extent a vintage date is added where there was no vintage date previously).

- Change the optional “produced” or “made” by statements on wine labels to “blended,” “vinted,” “cellared,” or “prepared” by statements.

- Add, delete, or change UPC barcodes and/or 2D mobile barcodes, e.g., QR codes or Microsoft Tags (previously, only “UPC codes” were explicitly listed).

- Add, delete, or change trademark, copyright symbols (e.g., TM, ©), kosher symbols, company logos, and/or social media icons.

- Add, delete, or change information about awards or medals.

- Add, delete, or change holiday, and/or seasonal-themed graphics, artwork, and/or salutations.

- The new form also removes the requirement for separate COLA applications for packages that are 237 mL and below or 3 liters and above.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about the new form or the COLA application process.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


Formulas Online a Useful Tool for Pre-COLA Evaluations

June 12, 2012

TTB is now offering Formulas Online, a web-based system for submitting and tracking formula submissions for domestic and imported alcoholic beverages and nonbeverages. Formulas Online follows COLAs Online, which was implemented several years ago as an online option for filing and tracking COLA Applications. The feature is a welcome arrival and should be much more efficient and provide for better tracking than the paper submission system of formulas. One of the most useful changes is that applications are verified throughout the process, meaning that errors can be corrected before an application is finalized, rather than finding out weeks after a submission that an application was not properly submitted. Submissions with Formulas Online can be made using the same user ID used to access COLAs Online. New users should be sure to review the TTB’s helpful reference guide, found here, which walks through the Formulas Online process in detail, and includes a list of common errors.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


Gluten Claims on Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits Labels

May 30, 2012

TTB issued an extensive ruling last week that provides guidance to industry members seeking to label their products with statements about gluten-content. TTB Ruling 2012-2, available here, serves as in interim policy on the gluten-related labeling claims, until such time as the FDA, which governs labeling for all food items, and TTB finalize rules on the subject. As consumer demand for all types of gluten-free foods and beverages has risen over the last several years, proper labeling of those products has been a difficult issue for both the FDA and TTB. At its core, the problem is that testing for gluten-content remains imprecise. As a result, laws and regulations that permit labeling products as “gluten-free” or claiming a certain amount of gluten content have been slow to develop, and TTB’s practice has been to reject label applications that include gluten-based claims. TTB’s interim policy provides a means for industry members to include some gluten-related labeling information on their labels, and will likely result in the approval of more labels that claim to be gluten-free or low in gluten.

The FDA, and by extension TTB, has struggled with a definition for “gluten-free” for nearly a decade. The FDA was first tasked with issuing a rule to define “gluten-free” with the passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The FDA then issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2007, proposing to define the term “gluten-free.” The proposed definition included that the item have no more than 20 parts gluten per million. The FDA has still not issued a final rule, and in 2011 recognized that for some food types, including fermented foods, there are no validated methods to determine if the product contains less than 20 parts gluten per million. Throughout the FDA’s process, TTB has deferred making its own rules related to gluten. The interim policy is TTB’s first effort to address the issue.

TTB regulates alcohol labeling and advertising through the Federal Alcohol Administration Act “FAA Act” and its regulations at 27 CFR parts 4, 5, and 7. At issue are regulations that: a) prohibit the use of labeling or advertising statements that are false or untrue in any particular, b) prohibit, irrespective of falsity, statements that directly, or by ambiguity, omission or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific or technical matter, tend to create a misleading impression, c) prohibit the use of any health-related statements in the labeling or advertising of wine, distilled spirits, or malt beverages if such statements are untrue in any particular or tend to create a misleading impression.

In its interim policy, TTB agrees with the FDA that “there are no scientifically valid methods for accurately measuring the gluten content of fermented products.” Up until now, this fact and the requirement that TTB prohibit misleading labels and advertising has meant that labels that include gluten-related claims have been rejected. TTB’s new guidelines provide a means for industry members to get labels approved that previously would have been rejected.

The interim policy sets forth two primary rules. First, TTB will allow the term “gluten-free” on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For example, wines produced from grapes or vodka produced from potatoes may include the statement “gluten-free” on their labels or advertising material. No products made from gluten-containing materials may be labeled as “gluten-free.” For those products made from gluten-containing materials, including spirits and malt beverages “produced using wheat, barley, rye, or a crossbred hybrid of these grains,” TTB will allow labels that contain all of the following information: a) a statement that the product is “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten;” b) a qualifying statement to inform consumers that (i) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten, (ii) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products, and (iii) the finished product may contain gluten; and c) a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product. Approved statements may not contain any reference to the level of gluten in the product. Additionally, in order to evaluate the method used to remove gluten from the product, TTB will require submission of results of the “R5 Mendez Competitive ELISA assay” for the finished product for the purpose of screening the validity and effectiveness of the method used to remove gluten. Such statements may only be made on labels where the gluten content is less than 20 parts per million.

Despite the strict standard set by the TTB for gluten-related labeling, the new guidance is likely to result in numerous submissions for label-approvals based on the new rules. For additional information on labeling issues, feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


Bioengineering and the TTB

September 09, 2011

People, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, are often concerned about genetically modified organisms or bioengineering in their food. Given the fervor, does it make sense for suppliers to assume the concern extends to alcoholic beverages and label accordingly? While some manufacturers may want to highlight that their products are “GMO free” or “GM free,” the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) current policy prohibits such labeling. Producers of non-alcoholic beverages have a little more latitude regarding GM labeling: The FDA’s position is that special labeling of bioengineered or genetically modified foods is not required, but manufacturers may voluntarily label their foods with such information. Additional information on the FDA’s position is available here. The TTB tends to be very cautious in allowing new types of information on alcohol labels and often prohibits any reference whatsoever until they have had the opportunity for careful review and can provide guidance in the proper manner of presenting such information. This has been true in the context of organic labeling and with respect to nutritional information (e.g., calories, fat, carbs, etc.). So we can expect that the TTB will weigh in with some direction on how GM-related statements can be offered in the future, but for now, they cannot be used on alcoholic beverage labels. Be sure to keep the TTB’s position in mind before submitting a certificate of label approval with any “GMO” related terms or references.


TTB Maintains Strict Requirements for Organic Labeling Claims

August 24, 2011

Ever wonder whether the claim that a wine uses “organic grapes” is really true? Wine is one area where if such claims make their way onto a wine bottle, they are almost certainly valid, as the TTB and the National Organic Program (“NOP”) maintain extremely strict requirements for organic claims on the label. The NOP has four primary categories for alcoholic beverages: 1) “100% Organic,” 2) “Organic,” meaning at least 95% organic and with no chemically added sulfites, 3) “Made with Organic [ingredients],” requiring at least 70% organic ingredients and may contain chemically added sulfites, and 4) for certain products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients, the ingredients statement may disclose the organic components.

In order to make any organic claims on a wine bottle or other alcohol label, TTB requires several sources of verification, making for a comprehensive but arduous application process. Along with the items normally required for label approval, applicants must first provide a Processor’s or Handler’s Operation Certificate, which certifies that the winery uses accepted NOP standards. This is often referred to by the TTB as the “organic certificate.” Notably, imported wines sometimes have difficulty meeting this requirement because foreign certifications are only sufficient if the foreign entity is also a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent. Next, applicants must provide an Accredited Certifying Agent Preview, which indicates that the label has been reviewed and found to be in compliance with TTB rules. Additionally, applicants may need to provide a crop certificate that certifies that the agricultural produce used in the product were grown to NOP standards.

The TTB also has specific rules for the label itself, including requiring a “certification statement,” which includes the name of the accredited certifying agent. These requirements must be repeated for each vintage year, as labels for new vintages must be resubmitted for approval.

Notably, despite these strict requirements for organic wine labels, other statements on wine bottles that pertain to farming techniques and other “green” claims are largely unregulated by the TTB. However, this is a fast-evolving area, so stay tuned.

If you need assistance with organic labels, the attorneys at Strike & Techel are familiar with the process and able to help.

UPDATE: On June 12, 2012, the TTB announced a change to the organic documentation requirements. A copy of the organic certificate is no longer required to accompany COLA applications for alcoholic beverages with “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic (ingredients)” on their labels. The Accredited Certifying Agent Preview is still required. Please eee the TTB release, available here, for additional information.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Label Applications Now Require Listing of Wine Varietals

July 08, 2011

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has updated the Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) form used to apply for label approval. The application, which is form TTB F 5100.31, now requests information about any grape varietals listed on a proposed wine label. Additionally, the COLA form has been updated to consolidate items needed for a pre-COLA evaluation, which is required for some products. The application form now consolidates these requirements into a “formula” field. The new COLAs online application system will also be updated to reflect these changes, but for the present time, COLAs filed electronically will not be required to include grape varietals.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Regulators Double Down in Las Vegas

May 12, 2011

Apparently, the TTB doesn’t agree that “anything goes” in Vegas. Just ask Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessey, Bacardi, Future Brands, and E. & J. Gallo Winery. According to the TTB, these companies allegedly violated the FAA’s tied-house “slotting fee” restrictions. A slotting fee has nothing to do with slot machines (good guess), but instead is anything of value a supplier provides to a retailer in exchange for favorable product placement. The TTB’s allegations included “that the companies collectively furnished nearly $2 million in inducements” with the purpose “to obtain preferential product display and shelf space (also known as slotting fees) at Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos.” In an industry guidance circular released shortly before the announcement of the offers in compromise, the TTB reminded industry members that while providing promotional items etc. to retailers might be legal in some contexts, doing so as an inducement for better product placement was a violation of FAA tied-house laws in general and slotting fee prohibitions specifically (at least when the elements of interstate commerce, exclusion of other brands, and, in the case of malt beverages, similar state law are present).

Under the terms of the offers in compromise, none of the companies admitted to any wrongdoing and collectively paid out $1.9 million in fines - the largest set of offers in compromise ever accepted by TTB for trade practice violations. Jackpot.

The TTB’s recent guidance on tied-house rules and slotting fees can be found here: http://www.ttb.gov/trade_practices/ttb-g-2011-3-tied-house-guidance.pdf

The TTB’s announcement and details of the offers in compromise can be found here: http://www.ttb.gov/press/fy11/press-release-fy-11-4-faa-oic.pdf

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


Streamlined COLA Process Announced by TTB

May 09, 2011

In a bid to streamline the Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) process, the TTB has announced that it will no longer examine COLA applications to determine whether the label images included in the applications meet the applicable type size, characters per inch, and contrasting background requirements. They will continue to review all submitted labels for inclusion of mandatory information and exclusion of the prohibited, but the TTB has asked industry members to self police when it comes to the technical character and background requirements. This does not mean, however, that the requirements can now be ignored. In the circular announcing the new policy, the TTB reserved the right to deny and return applications on type size, etc. grounds when it “deems necessary.” To that effect, the following statement will be included on new approved COLA applications:

QUALIFICATIONS: TTB has not reviewed this label for type size, characters per inch or contrasting background. The responsible industry member must continue to ensure that the mandatory information on the actual labels is displayed in the correct type size, number of characters per inch, and on a contrasting background in accordance with the TTB labeling regulations, 27 CFR parts 4, 5, 7, and 16, as applicable.

The official reason TTB has given for making the change in procedure was to reduce the time wasted in the COLA process due to image distortions in submitted electronic files. The good news is that the label approval process should be faster with this new policy in place. But the flip side is that the importers and bottlers submitting COLA applications bear greater responsibility for ensuring the labels are in compliance with the labeling regulations. In addition to reserving the right to reject non-compliant labels, TTB also has the power to revoke COLAs it has previously issued, so non-compliant labels that obtain an approval still could be rejected – even after being applied to bottles. The associated costs and logistics problems of a COLA revocation make it important to continue to pay close attention to the minutiae when creating new labels.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


Fanciful Names and the TTB

February 23, 2011

We get lots of questions on the topic of “fanciful names” in the context of certificate of label approvals (COLAs) through the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB). The TTB recently posted a helpful clarification, which we wanted to pass along:

Fanciful Name. Have you ever wondered what information should be entered into the “fanciful name” field on the COLA application? A fanciful name is a term used in addition to the brand name for the purposes of further identifying a product. A fanciful name is mandatory for any malt beverage product that is not known to the trade under a particular designation (27 CFR 7.24(a)) or distilled spirits products that do not meet the standards of identity or does not conform to trade and consumer understanding (27 CFR 5.34(a)). The use of a fanciful name on a flavored wine product or any wine product that meets a standard of identity is not required. Please note that if a fanciful name is used on a flavored wine product, it must appear in direct conjunction with a truthful and adequate statement of composition. (27 CFR 4.34(a))

In other words, if your distilled spirits or beer product does not fall within one of the specifically defined classifications, e.g., whiskey, gin, rum, tequila, beer, lager, ale, porter, stout, etc., then it must be labeled with a “truthful and adequate statement of composition” and a fanciful name in addition to the brand name. This generally occurs when a product starts as a distilled spirit or malt beverage product, but then additional flavorings or ingredients are added and those additional items are not permitted within the standard defined classifications. In the case of wine, the fanciful name is optional. Brand names and fanciful names cannot contain the name of a class or type of alcohol, so “vodka” or “whiskey” cannot serve as a fanciful name.

When a fanciful name is mandatory, it is important to plan ahead when creating a new product name and label. We have seen products identified by a single brand name that could not obtain a label approval because they were required to also have a fanciful name. Applicants in that situation are required to add a new name to be used as a fanciful name and revise their labels so that it is included. An example of a properly identified distilled spirits product is “ABC Brand, Peachy Passion, neutral spirits with added fruit juice and natural flavorings.” It uses a brand name, a fanciful name, and a statement of composition, as required under the labeling regulations. For most products, fanciful names are not required but it’s important to consider how TTB will classify your product before you create your labels and brand identity.
Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB’s Permits Online System Up and Running; Expedited Review a Thing of the Past

February 14, 2011

Today the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) launched their Permits Online system, which is available here. The system is a counterpart to the Formulas Online and COLAs Online systems. The Permits Online system allows the application procedure for federal alcohol and tobacco business permits to be completed entirely online. The system allows one to prepare, submit and track applications through the TTB’s online portal, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But as with many technology innovations and advances, there is often a corresponding down side. A few weeks ago, the TTB announced that they are no longer accepting “Expedite Requests” or “Informal Reviews” for certificate of label approvals (COLAs) and formula approvals. The former expedite option allowed for rapid turnaround of approvals that was especially helpful for the industry at large.

With a dramatic increase in approval requests over the years, coupled with shrinking governmental budgets, the TTB decided that all applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, without any expedite availability. Further, the TTB stated that applicants should plan for a full 90-day review period, which does not include any additional time that could be necessary if label or formula changes are requested. The TTB did note that online applications are processed about twice as fast as paper applications, so there is a real incentive to using the online portals. If you have an upcoming formula approval or COLA, be sure to factor in enough time for the TTB’s review given that the expedite option is no longer available. If you have questions about formula or label approvals, please feel free to call any of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


TTB Considers New Grape Varieties for American Wines

February 10, 2011

Only a grape variety name approved by the TTB may be used as a varietal “type” designation for American wine. The TTB is considering adding more than 50 names to their list of approved varietals to catch up with the explosion of U.S. wines made from obscure grape varietals. The full list of varietals up for public comments is here.

Some of the proposed varietals are not so obscure (e.g. Blaufränkisch, Carignan, Garnacha, Grenache blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Lagrein, Vermentino), but others are extremely unusual, particularly the submissions from the Minnesota Grape Growers (Louise Swenson, Sabrevois, St. Pepin), which highlighted the cold-weather resiliency of the grapes

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


Extended Comment Period on TTB Notice 109: Use of Winemaking Terms

January 14, 2011

The deadline has been extended for comments on the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau’s (“TTB”) proposed amendment to regulations regarding common winemaking terms used on wine labels and advertisements. Written comments are now due by March 4, 2011. The TTB set out their proposed new regulations in Notice 109, “Use of Various Winemaking Terms on Wine Labels and in Advertisements”, published November 3, 2010 in the Federal Register. The comment period was extended at the request of Napa Valley Vintners (“NVV”). NVV has formed a subcommittee to research and survey members on the proposed new regulations.

There are four main proposals set forth by the TTB in Notice 109. First, the TTB proposes requiring the use of the terms “estate grown,” “estate,” and “estates” to meet the higher threshold definition it currently ascribes to “estate bottled.” Second, the TTB proposes codifying its policy of only allowing the terms “proprietor grown” and “vintner grown” if 100% of the grapes used in a wine are grown on vineyards owned or controlled by the bottling winery. Third, the TTB proposes to codify its current position that “single vineyard” may only be used when 100% of the grapes used in the wine come from one vineyard. Further, it would extend that reasoning to the terms “single orchard,” “single farm,” and “single ranch.” Fourth, the TTB is considering codifying definitions for the following terms: “Proprietors Blend,” “Old Vine,” “Barrel Fermented,” “Old Clone,” “Reserve,” “Select Harvest,” “Bottle Aged,” and “Barrel Select.” The TTB made the proposals in an effort to ensure that consumers are not misled by wine labels and advertising. Should these changes occur the TTB could revoke its approval of previously approved labels.

The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (“FAA Act”) sets forth the regulations for alcohol labeling and advertisements, including wine. The TTB is responsible for the administration of the FAA Act and the promulgation of regulations thereunder. The specific wine labeling and advertising regulations can be found in Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·


Alcoholic Whipped Cream: More Than Just a Dessert Topping

December 14, 2010

This holiday season, thousands of households will be checking “whipped cream” off their shopping lists. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, wants to make sure those households are putting the right product in their cart come shopping time. A handful of whipped cream products made with alcohol have popped up over the last year. The products are typically made with grain alcohol and look like traditional whipping cream. But they pack an alcoholic punch of around 16% alcohol per volume, or a little over 30 proof. Such items are not considered food products, but rather alcoholic beverages. As one manufacturer stated in the FAQ section of its website, they’ve never had the product tested for caloric content as it is “not a food product and is not subject to FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] labeling requirements; it is an alcoholic beverage.”

The fact that the product is an alcoholic beverage as opposed to a food product means it is regulated by the TTB. For more information on the TTB’s relationship with the FDA, refer back to our post on caffeinated alcoholic beverages. As the TTB reminded producers last week, all alcoholic beverage products must abide by federal labeling requirements that prohibit consumer deception. Product labels for distilled spirits are required to have a statement of the class, type and alcoholic content, along with the government warning required by 27 U.S.C. 215, among other things. Additionally, such manufacturers must comply with Federal Alcohol Administration Act, or FAA, advertising laws and the various relevant state regulatory laws. If you are of the legal drinking age and decide to try one of these alcoholic whipped cream products this holiday season, just remember, as always, to imbibe in moderation.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010 · All Rights Reserved ·


Alcoholic Energy Drinks are Out, What’s Next?

December 06, 2010

At this point, we’ve all recovered from the landslide ban on alcoholic energy drinks that crossed the U.S. in November. We covered the opening act, here, when Michigan, quickly followed by Washington, banned the sale of alcoholic energy drinks. New York then reached an agreement with certain suppliers and distributors that halted caffeinated malt beverage sales in that state (review our coverage here). After that, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters to four caffeinated alcoholic beverage companies. The letters warned those producers that caffeine added to their malt alcohol beverage products constitutes an “unsafe food additive.”

Substances added to food products, which includes beverages, are considered food additives and are subject to review and approval by the FDA, unless the substance is specifically excluded from the definition of “food additive,” has been sanctioned by the FDA, or is recognized by qualified experts as adequately safe when used as intended. This third category is referred to as Generally Recognized as Safe or GRAS.

As many know, the FDA isn’t the usual stop for federal regulation of alcoholic beverages, but rather the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) which operates under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act). In this instance, the FDA’s statements meant that the beverages in question were considered adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The TTB takes the position that adulterated beverages, even if their formulas and labels have been approved by the TTB, are mislabeled under the FAA Act. This means that shipping and selling such beverages violates the FAA Act, which can result in license revocations and misdemeanor penalties. As the TTB stated, “…each producer and importer of alcohol beverages is responsible for ensuring that the ingredients in its products comply with the laws and regulations that FDA administers. TTB’s approval of a label or formula does not imply or otherwise constitute a determination that the product complies with the FFDCA, including a determination as to whether the product is adulterated because it contains an unapproved food additive.”

Producers of alcoholic energy drinks likely thought their products fell under the GRAS status. The FDA’s announcement ended that assumption. The question is, what other assumptions might it have ended? Alcoholic beverage producers have been using caffeine in their products for years, the most popular being coffee. In the FDA’s Questions and Answers section about the warning letters, it states that the letters are not directed at “alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as a coffee flavoring.” However, in that same section the FDA also stated that, “Other alcoholic beverages containing added caffeine may be subject to agency action in the future if the available scientific data and information indicate that the use of caffeine in those products is not GRAS. A manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its products, including the ingredients of its products, are safe for their intended use and are otherwise in compliance with the law.” Further, the TTB stated that if requested by the FDA, it would share “formulas for beers containing added caffeine that are approved under 27 CFR Part 25 [TTB regulations].” In the upcoming months, and perhaps years, it will be interesting to see how the GRAS standard is applied to other alcoholic beverages containing some form of caffeine.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010 · All Rights Reserved ·


IMBIBE+BLOG

May 30, 2010

Welcome to IMBIBLOG, the blog of Strike & Techel. We are attorneys specializing in the laws and regulations governing alcoholic beverages, also known as liquor law or alcohol law. Liquor law is a specialized area of legal practice. Compared to other areas of legal specialization, there are relatively few lawyers specializing in alcoholic beverage law. If you are considering starting a business related to alcohol, you will benefit from working with a competent liquor lawyer.

The team at Strike & Techel is experienced and can serve as your TTB lawyer, ABC lawyer, beer lawyer, wine lawyer or distilled spirits lawyer. We are familiar with TTB law as well as state ABC law in California and across the country. Preparing and applying for the necessary alcohol beverage licenses is a big part of the alcohol beverage practice and Strike & Techel is highly experienced with ABC license applications and TTB license applications.

We are based in San Francisco and are particularly familiar with the alcohol laws and regulations of our city. The attorneys at our firm practice alcoholic beverage law exclusively. This blog is our place to tell you about current issues of interest for those in the business of making, promoting, and selling alcoholic beverages.


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