Last week, the President signed into law sweeping alcoholic beverage excise tax reform as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Act”). These alcohol excise tax changes originated in the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, and were incorporated into the larger $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. The new law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2018. The law sunsets at the end of 2019, but with the possibility that the changes might be extended if successful. The TTB is working on guidance and the form revisions necessitated by these fast-approaching excise tax changes, and expects to issue more information in the coming weeks. The Act will drastically lower the tax rate payable on alcoholic beverages through the course of 2018 and 2019. Already-existing excise tax reductions for small brewers and small winemakers are expanded and extended to all producers of beer and wine, distilled spirits producers will get significantly lowered excise tax rates, and importers will gain the opportunity to stand in the shoes of their foreign producers to access similar reductions. Specific reductions include:
In January 2017, the federal laws on alcoholic cider were revised to expand the definition of what constitutes “hard cider” and to revise its federal tax rate. We posted about those and other developments in the “hard cider” arena here and here. Included in those changes to the law was a requirement, to be effective starting January 1, 2018, that the statement “Tax class 5041(b)(6)” appear on any hard cider removed from wine premises or Customs custody for which the “hard cider” tax rate is claimed. However, on December 5, 2017, the TTB published a temporary rule, delaying the new labeling requirement until January 1, 2019. Until the new effective date, the tax class statement continues to be optional. Along with the labeling delay, the TTB has also decided to reopen the public comment period, providing an opportunity for the public to make additional comments over the next two months regarding both the delayed labeling requirement and other “hard cider” regulatory amendments. For more information regarding hard cider licensing and regulatory requirements, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
Recently, the TTB published Industry Circular No. 2017-2, providing guidance for producers of hard cider. This guidance details the new criteria for the hard cider tax rate, which went into effect on January 1st of this year. We addressed those changes, as well as the old criteria for the hard cider tax rate, on our prior blog post, “Federal Definition of “Hard Cider” Will Be Expanded in 2017”. As a recap, the current definition of hard cider eligible for the lower hard cider tax rate, is a product that meets the following criteria:
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (the “PATH Act”) took effect on January 1st, 2017. The PATH Act changes the bond requirements for some TTB-permitted producers that are liable for excise taxes on distilled spirits, wine, and beer. Currently, all producers are required to file a bond covering operations and withdrawals of spirits, wine, and beer. The PATH Act provides that producers that reasonably expect not to owe more than $50,000 in excise taxes during the year are no longer required to have a bond on file with the TTB. Beginning this year, a new applicant that indicates that they do not expect to owe more than $50,000 in excise taxes during the first calendar year will not be required to submit a bond with the permit application. Also, an existing producer may request termination of its bond requirement by filing an amendment to its permit, which the TTB will process only after the producer has submitted excise tax returns, payments, and reports for 2016, so that the TTB can determine the producer’s eligibility to terminate its bond. The chart below provides examples of production volumes that would result in annual excise taxes of less than $50,000, meaning that producers under those volumes would not be required to file a bond with the TTB covering operations. The TTB has issued Industry Circular 2016-2 with more information, and will publish regulations to implement the above statutory changes in the near future. For more information regarding the PATH Act and TTB bond requirements, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for further guidance.
The partners at Strike & Techel are pleased to announce the elevation of Tom Kerr from Senior Associate to Partner in the firm! Tom spent his first few years after law school practicing commercial litigation, but once he joined Strike & Techel in 2011, he quickly realized alcohol law was much more fun. Tom’s diverse practice includes advising supplier and retailer clients on trade practice issues, distribution, promotions, advertising, marketing, and tied-house issues. Tom has particular expertise in ecommerce and he advises many third party providers and others on emerging industry practices. If you have questions in these areas, or regarding foreign travel, the Denver Broncos, or Star Wars, Tom’s probably got the answers. To learn more about Tom and Strike & Techel, visit us at www.alcohol.law.
On November 4, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed Assembly Bill 10248 (AB 10248). This is the second time in two years that Governor Cuomo has vetoed a bill seeking to amend the state’s alcohol laws to clarify the basis upon which the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) can revoke, suspend or cancel a license or permit. AB 10248 would have prevented the SLA from taking disciplinary action against licensees for violations of other states’ alcoholic beverage laws unless the alleged violation independently violated a provision of NY law, or the other state had determined that a violation had occurred after providing the accused with full due process of law; the SLA could not take action based on a mere allegation of a violation in another state. AB 10248 would have specifically permitted the SLA to take action against licensees for knowingly making alcohol sales to minors or failing to pay taxes in other states, but presumably the other state still would have had to prove liability before the SLA could act. AB 10248 stems from the SLA’s ongoing battle with Empire Wine. In 2014, the SLA alleged that Empire Wine was violating other states’ laws by direct shipping wine to consumers in a number of states that prohibit direct shipping by out-of-state retailers. In Governor Cuomo’s veto memo, he reasoned that the veto ensured that licensees would abide by New York’s alcohol laws and prevent a “regulatory gap” in which retailers could violate other states’ laws without repercussions in New York.
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.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has further expanded the list of ingredients used in the production of beer that are exempt from the formula requirements of 27 C.F.R. § 25.55. On December 17, 2015, the TTB issued Ruling 2015-1, Ingredients and Processes Used in the Production of Beer Not Subject to Formula Requirements (LINK), which modifies and supersedes Ruling 2014-4. Ruling 2014-4 exempted 35 ingredients from formula approval requirements, including ingredients such as honey, chocolate, cherries, oranges, allspice, and clove. Ruling 2015-1 now exempts more than 50 additional ingredients from the formula requirements, including ingredients such as tea, oyster shells, jasmine, rosemary, grapes, and figs. A complete list of ingredients used in the production of beer that are exempt from formula requirements is located in Attachment 1 to Ruling 2015-1 (LINK). Ruling 2015-1 also clarifies the TTB’s position regarding extracts, essential oils, and syrups. These preparations may contain alcohol or other ingredients, and thus are not exempt from formula requirements. For example, although vanilla, spearmint, and strawberries are included on the list of exempt ingredients, the use of vanilla extract, essential oil of spearmint, or strawberry syrup would still trigger the formula requirements of 27 C.F.R. § 25.55. Ruling 2015-1 was issued in response to an ongoing conversation between the TTB and the Brewers Association, which has been petitioning the TTB since 2006 to expand the list of exempt ingredients. The most recent Brewers Association petition was submitted on September 30, 2015, and Ruling 2015-1 exempts all of the ingredients requested by the Brewers Association in that petition, with the exception of licorice, juniper branches, pluot, spruce leaves, squid ink, and woodruff. The TTB declined to adopt licorice as an exempt ingredient due to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations regarding that ingredient. The TTB declined to adopt the remaining ingredients at this time because it did not find that the available data established that these ingredients are “traditional” in the production of beer. Although the TTB did not exempt all the ingredients requested by the Brewers Association, the TTB is open to future petitions from brewers regarding additional ingredients that brewers believe should be exempted from formula requirements. A procedure for such a petition is located at 27 C.F.R. § 25.55(f). Contact an attorney at Strike & Techel today with any questions about beer regulations or formula requirements.
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!
Congratulations! You have your alcohol license and you are now in business. Don’t forget though, applying for and getting your license is not the end of your regulatory responsibilities – you also have ongoing reporting obligations. If anything changes in your business, e.g., if you get new investors, or some investors leave, if you appoint a manager, if your officers or directors change, or if you move or open a new location, you must report it to the licensing authorities. Depending on the nature of the change, it may even be deemed a license transfer and may require the same type of paperwork that was involved in getting your license in the first place. A winery in Northern California recently found this out the hard way after it failed to update its federal permit when there was a change of ownership, with shares in the business being moved into a trust. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) discovered this fact during a routine audit and took disciplinary action. The winery settled the matter by submitting an offer in compromise of $3,000, for failing to meet its reporting and tax obligations, which was accepted by the TTB. You can find out more HERE. An industry member’s reporting obligations should not be taken lightly. If you make any changes to your business, you should report them as soon as possible. In California and under the federal regulations, you have thirty (30) days to report such changes and failure to do so may expose your license to disciplinary actions like the one described above. If you have any questions about reporting or licensing, 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 © 2015 • All Rights Reserved •
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 •
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 •
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 ·
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