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Maybe That’s Not Beer You’re Drinking

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.

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