Last time, in Part 8 of our series on the TTB’s “Notice No. 176” – the “Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages” we covered proposed changes to some wine labeling and advertising regulations.

In Part 9 we take our first look at distilled spirit specific regulatory changes to issues like the allowable tolerance for variation from stated ABV and labeling terminology.

The proposed updated regulations will change distilled spirits labeling practices in the following ways:

  • The proposed regulations modify the definition of “age” to make it clear that spirits are only aged when they’re stored in or with oak.
  • The definition of “grain” will be amended to add amaranth buckwheat and quinoa. This brings the definition in line with FDA draft guidance (71 FR 8597) identifying those pseudocereals as “whole grains”.
  • The term Oak Barrel will be defined as a cylindrical Oak drum of approximately 50 gallon capacity used to age bulk spirits. The folks at Titan Barrel Works will want to get on this one as the TTB is seeking comment about shape and size issues with this proposed definition and their product shouldn’t lose out because distillers using it can’t say “aged in oak barrels.”
  • The new regulations will allow mandatory information to appear anywhere on the labels so long as all mandatory information for spirits labels is within the same field of vision which means a single side of a container where all pieces of information can be viewed simultaneously without a need to turn the container. Also this amendment eliminates the requirement that mandatory information appear parallel to the base of the container.
  • The proposed rule clarifies that the statement of proof must appear immediately adjacent to the mandatory alcohol content statement – the percentage of alcohol by volume.
  • The proposed rule increases the allowable tolerance variation from stated alcohol by volume of the present 0.15% to 0.3%. The TTB comment reasons that this doesn’t present a risk to the revenue which is taxed on alcohol by volume because they expect there to be both overproof and underproof bottles.
  • Certain terms such as “blended by,” “made by,” “prepared by,” “manufactured by,” and “produced by,” that used to be used by a rectifier of distilled spirits will be defined and clarified in a proposed section 5.66(b)(2). For example the term “produced by” when applied to distilled spirits does not refer to the original distillation of the spirits but instead indicates a processing operation that involves a change in the class or type of the product through the addition of flavors or some other processing activity.
  • The origin of whisky products gets more transparent where the regulation proposes a new section 5.66(f) that would provide the state of original distillation for certain whisky products must be shown on the label in at least one of several ways. Either by using the term “distilled by,”  or some variant as part of the mandatory name and address statement followed by a single location (principal place of business will not be suffice – place of distillation must be used), or by including the name of the state in which the original distillation occurred immediately adjacent to the class of type of whiskey (e.g. “Kentucky Bourbon whisky”), or by including a separate statement such as “Distilled in [name of State].
  • Age statements will now be allowed on all spirits except for neutral spirits. So the practice of prohibiting age statements on gin, and liqueurs, and cordials, and flavored brandies and vodkas will no longer be practiced. This is a momentous change propelled by the TTB’s view that such statements improve consumer information.
  • “Barrel proof,” “Cask strength,” “original proof,” “original barrel proof,” “original cask strength,” and “entry proof” will have rules defining them. For instance “original proof,” “original barrel proof,” and “entry proof” will indicate that the proof of the spirits entered into the barrel and the proof of the bottled spirits are the same.
  • Also, the term “barrel proof” will no longer be based on a relation of the bottled product to the product at the time it was taxed. It will now be based on a relation of the bottled product to the product at the time it is dumped from the barrel. Holding that the term “barrel proof” may be used on a label when the bottling alcohol content of the distilled spirits is not more than two degrees proof lower than the proof of the spirit when the spirit was dumped from the barrel.
  • The term “distillation” will be defined as a single run through a pot still or one run through a single distillation column of a column (reflux) still, to allow for a common consumer meaning to terms such as “double distilled” or “triple distilled.”
  • Although the Bottled in Bond Act was repealed in 1979 the continued use of “bottled in bond,” “aged in bond” and other terms used under the act will be honored as recoginzed by the ATF’s rules. The terms will be reorganized under a new Section 5.88 so that the term are maintained because, as the TTB notes, consumers continue to place value on these terms and labels.

In our next installment, we will begin discussing those changes specific to distilled spirits standards of identity and formulas.