Between pandemic-driven changes to shipping and home delivery privileges, the rise of e-commerce and the nebulous definition of hard seltzer for tax and regulatory purposes, there is a lot that brewers need to know to remain on the right side of the law in 2021. Alva Mather, head of the Firm’s Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Group and Counsel Nichole Shustack join the Brewbound Podcast to break down all the pressing legal issues facing the beer industry.
Recently, Oregon issued clarification pertaining to the classification of hard seltzers in the state. The guidance, as summarized below, impacts the majority of hard seltzers in the market. Classification of hard seltzer has a number of impacts, most notably on excise tax (or “privilege tax”) rates and licensing needed to produce, import, distribute and sell hard seltzers in the state. Specifically, Oregon has signaled that should the state’s guidance result in the reclassification of a supplier’s hard seltzer product, there may be retroactive tax liability imposed. This alert should assist those engaged in the production or sale of hard seltzer in Oregon in determining whether reclassification is necessary and the implications thereof. For specific questions on the implications of this guidance on your business, please do not hesitate to reach out to McDermott Will & Emery.
Classifications of Hard Seltzer
“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a malt beverage in Oregon:
- 100% of the alcohol by volume (ABV) is obtained through the fermentation of grain and the ABV is more than 0.5% but not more than 14%; or
- At least 98.5% of the ABV is obtained through the fermentation of grain and the ABV is more than 6% but not more than 14%. Once those criteria are met, not more than 1.5% of the ABV may be obtained through other flavoring agents containing alcohol; or
- At least 51% of the ABV is obtained by the fermentation of grain and the ABV is more than 0.5% and not more than 6%.
Once the criteria above is met, up to 49% of the ABV may be obtained through other flavoring agents containing alcohol.
Oregon relies on the federal definition of “grain” to mean barley, canola, corn, flaxseed, mixed grain, oats, rye, sorghum, soybeans, sunflower seed, triticale and wheat, and the subsequent definition for each grain. This may exclude hard seltzers deriving alcohol primarily through the fermentation of cane sugar from meeting the malt beverage definition in Oregon. The state may require verification that a product claimed to be a malt beverage for tax purposes is in fact produced through the fermentation of grain via the submission of an ingredients list or documentation describing the manufacturing process.
“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a wine in Oregon:
- An alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of vinous or fruit juice, or other fermented beverage fit for beverage purposes, and contains more than 0.5% ABV and does not contain more than 21% ABV.
- Wine may contain distilled liquor and other “non-traditional” ingredients, provided that it does not contain more than 21% ABV.
- “Wine” does not include malt beverage, cider or distilled liquor.
“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a cider in Oregon:
- An alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of the juice of apples or pears; contains more than 0.5% ABV but does not contain more than 8.5% ABV.
- The juice is not required [...]
Pennsylvania’s governor is urging the state’s legislature to legalize recreational marijuana and pass a six-month reduction or cancellation of the state’s alcohol tax on the hospitality industry. Pennsylvania would join 11 other states and Washington, D.C., in fully legalizing marijuana, which can be lucrative for states.
“It’s almost, from a legislative and a state government perspective, a no brainer, because it’s a new source of revenue that you don’t have at a time where you need it desperately,” McDermott Will & Emery partner Alva C. Mather said in a recent Brewbound article. “And there’s lots of precedent for how to make it work in many other states, so the tide has turned quite a bit in the last several years where I think it’s not as taboo as it used to be.”
“States are in a very difficult situation in light of the pandemic, in terms of how they’re going to be able to generate more revenue and more job opportunities,” Mather said. “This is an entirely new industry that brings both to the table.”
To meet the growing need for hand sanitizing products, various federal agencies including the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Congress have been rapidly updating and providing guidance for alcohol manufacturers interested in producing or supplying alcohol for the production of these important products. The below neatly summarizes the key issues surrounding the production of alcohol for use in or production of hand sanitizers for distilled spirts plants (DSPs).
Last week, the Supreme Court of Mississippi handed down an opinion in Fitch v. Wine Express Inc., No. 2018-SA-01259-SCT. A state court decision on the rather dry subject of personal jurisdiction often merits little comment, but the Fitch opinion features an emphatic rejection of the legal theory relied upon by many direct-to-consumer retail alcohol sellers today.
As a “control” state for wine sales, Mississippi law generally prohibits the importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages (a term that includes wine) outside of the state’s monopoly control system. And, as in virtually every state, the retail sale of wine to consumers is reserved to state licensees and, in the case of control jurisdictions, the state itself.
There are many laws at both the federal and state level that govern the production and distribution of distilled spirits. For example, craft distillers must comply with licensing and permitting requirements, trade practice laws, advertising restrictions, and, depending on the jurisdiction, alcohol franchise law. One of the most fundamental—and most complex—areas of law governing distilled spirits is excise taxes.
An article authored by McDermott’s Bethany K. Hatef in the Winter 2020 issue of Artisan Spirit Magazine provides a high-level overview of the federal alcohol excise tax system and some specific features that apply to distilled spirits, and also explains the current status of the Craft Beverage Modernization Act, the legislation temporarily providing for reduced tax rates for certain amounts of distilled spirits.
Originally published in Artisan Spirit Magazine: Winter 2020.
On August 12, 2019, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published its updated Formula and Process for Nonbeverage Product, TTB Form 5154.1. The Nonbeverage Product approval process is critical to obtain “drawback” (a refund) on most of the alcohol excise tax on distilled spirits used to make such products deemed “unfit for beverage purposes.” The Nonbeverage Formula Form accordingly is important to producers of flavorings and extracts, soft drink concentrates and other non-beverage products made using potable alcohol. (more…)
For those who follow developments in the law and craft brewing with equal passion, every year has its share of substantial issues. This year has been no exception, with a pending Supreme Court case; a substantial upswing in federal trade practice enforcement activity; a massive rewrite of US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) labeling and advertising regulations; and prospects for extending the biggest cuts in the excise tax on beer since the repeal of Prohibition.
As these developments play out over the next year, we may see changes translate into the marketplace. Find out what you can expect.
Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2019.
The spring edition of the federal government’s semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda) has been published. Like other federal agencies, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects.
The Regulatory Agenda provides glimpses into TTB’s policy focus and aspirations. But, readers should recognize that TTB rulemaking moves very slowly, and the Agency often does not meet the aspirational dates published in the Regulatory Agenda. (more…)