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Second Prop 65 Amendment Effective April 1, 2021: New Warnings Required

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65 (Prop 65), was enacted as a ballot initiative and requires businesses to inform Californians about exposures to chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The regulation prohibits knowing or intentional exposure of any individual to a “chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.” (See: 27 CCR § 25249.6.)

The state maintains and updates a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, with alcoholic beverages being added to the list April 29, 2011, and requiring suppliers to comply with Prop 65’s “clear and reasonable warning” mandate. (Click here for more information.) This includes, without limitation, beer, malt beverages, wine and distilled spirits. (See: 27 CCR § 25607.4(a).) Generally speaking, for alcoholic beverages, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer or its distributors to ensure proper compliance with Prop 65. (See: 27 CCR § 25600.2(a).) Further, any consequences for failure to comply with Prop 65 typically rests with the manufacturer or its distributor, provided that the retailer has not frustrated the manufacturer’s reasonable efforts to properly display the warning.

The warning provided must read: “WARNING Drinking distilled spirits, beer, coolers, wine and other alcoholic beverages may increase cancer risk, and, during pregnancy, can cause birth defects. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/alcohol.” (Id. at § 25607.4(a)(1)-(2).) To comply with Section 25607.3, among other specific requirements, the warning must be made at either point of sale (for off-premises consumption) or on a menu or list identifying the alcoholic beverages sold on-premises. (See: 27 CCR § 25607.4.) Note, however, that a supplier who is a party to a “court-ordered settlement or final judgment, establishing a warning method or content is deemed to be providing a “clear and reasonable” warning for that exposure if the warning complies with the order or judgment,” even if the requirements set forth in the order or judgment differ from the specific requirements set forth in the regulations. (See: 27 CCR § 25600(e).)

Prop 65 is enforced by the California attorney general, any district attorney or city attorney for cities whose population exceeds 750,000 and/or any private individual or group acting in the public interest. (See: 27 CCR § 25249.7.) Penalties for violating Prop 65 can be as high as $2,500 per day. (Id.) The fine is paid to the party that brought the litigation, including individuals or groups acting in the public interest, which creates a powerful incentive for private parties to enforce Prop 65. (Id.)

Prop 65 has undergone multiple amendments, two of which are in direct response to the ever-growing e-commerce market for alcoholic beverages. The first amendment, effective August 30, 2018, required the Prop 65 warning language be displayed on websites and on or in packages containing direct-to-consumer orders sent to California addresses. (Click here for [...]

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Podcast: 2021 Legal Landscape for Brewers

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.

Listen to the podcast.




Oregon Issues New Guidance on Hard Seltzer Classification

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Wine may contain distilled liquor and other “non-traditional” ingredients, provided that it does not contain more than 21% ABV.
  3. “Wine” does not include malt beverage, cider or distilled liquor.

“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a cider in Oregon:

  1. 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.
  2. The juice is not required [...]

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Five Tips for Making Boozy Ice Cream That’s Legal

When you think of the relationship between alcohol and food, the classics come to mind: tiramisu, coq au vin and beer cheese. While there is a long culinary tradition of using alcohol in food, the newest trend is to utilize alcohol in innovative ways in the culinary world. Recently, a popular food/alcohol combo has been in the freezer aisle where alcohol has lent its flavor to ice cream and freezer pops. Fans consider this a win-win…it cools us down in the summer and acts as a little adult refreshment at the same time. As the tasty treats gain popularity, more and more states are approving the manufacture and sale of such items. 

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that allows ice cream to be mixed with liquor. He stated this would, “help New York’s dairy farmers, liquor and craft beverage producers, dairy processors and manufacturers, food retailers, and restaurants meet the increasing consumer demand for these new and innovative products.” While New York has been able to have beer and wine mixed ice cream, liquor is new. Other states, like Ohio, have created special licenses for the explicit manufacture and sale of ice cream with beer or intoxicating liquor. 

While we believe this is a win-win for adults, this space lends itself to a number of legal hurdles. We suggest the following tips:

1. Advertise specifically to adults. While this is a given in alcohol beverages, it is a good reminder to gear your advertising towards adults only. 

2. Ensure your label is clearly marked with 21+ and the Government Warning Statement. New York specified in its most recent legislation that the label must have warnings and label requirements similar to confectionary products that contain beer, wine and cider.

3. Avoid the risk of unaware consumption. Ensure that the packaging and marketing make it very clear that the product contains alcohol.

4. Check each state to learn its specific laws. For example, in New York the maximum alcohol by volume allowed in ice cream is 5% while Ohio allows up to 6%.

5. Food that has alcohol mixed in requires the submission of a nonbeverage formula to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).   




Ohio Case Will Likely Determine Whether Other States Use 21st Amendment Enforcement Act

As was widely reported in the alcohol trade press, the state of Ohio filed suit against several online retail outlets a week ago after an investigation into direct-to-consumer shipments of wine and spirits into the state. The suit follows an investigation where employees of the Division of Liquor Control ordered wine and spirits online through retail outlets and received the alcohol at the Division’s headquarters. Ohio argues that the online retail outlets did not have a license to ship the alcohol directly to consumers in Ohio, and therefore violated Ohio law. The crux of the suit is that the only way to ship wine to consumers in the state of Ohio is by obtaining an “S Permit”.  Unfortunately for the online retail companies, an “S Permit” can only be obtained by wine manufacturers and importers who produce less than 250,000 gallons of wine per year. The lack of any other license essentially prevents the vast majority of manufacturers, wholesalers and online retail companies from shipping wine to consumers in the state of Ohio directly.

What makes this case special is it marks the first time the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act, passed in 2000 has been utilized by a state. The likely reason it hasn’t been utilized is that when going through Congress the Act was stripped of the ability for states to collect monetary damages and left them with only the ability to seek injunctive relief. That said, Ohio, as a control state for spirits, generates a massive amount of revenue through the sale of spirits and taxation of wine in the state. Online retailers and direct to consumer shipments puts that revenue in jeopardy. The case also hints that Ohio is protecting instate interests of wine retailers and wholesalers who stand to lose the most money with the expansion of direct to consumer shipments. Even though the state can’t seek monetary damages under the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act, this suit is on its face all about money as the state makes no argument regarding the need to protect the public health and safety of Ohio residents.

The interesting part will be if and how the online retailers companies defend their actions. The case seems to go against both the trend of loosening direct to consumer laws across the country (such as neighboring Kentucky’s recent expansion of direct to consumer rights) as well as successful retailer challenges to state laws that run afoul of the ”dormant” Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The online retailers could use this as an opportunity to test the recent Supreme Court’s holding in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Assn. v. Thomas reinforcing the “dormant” commerce clause. In the Tennessee Retailers case the Supreme Court held that the two-year residency law implemented by the state was not justified by the public health and safety measures raised and was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.  As a reminder the Commerce Clause limits states authorities to regulate economic activity in interstate commerce. Among other things, this has been [...]

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Non-Alcoholic Beer Regulation 101

As part of the general move to better-for-you beverages, non-alcoholic (NA) options have been and will likely continue to be on the rise. However, how NA is treated, or not treated, as “beer” has significant impact on its potential route to market. The below summarizes the overall treatment of NA beer under US federal law, as well as examples of restrictions on direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipments imposed by certain states.

FEDERAL TREATMENT OF NA BEER

  • Tax Treatment: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulations define “beer” as a fermented beverage containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume (ABV) and brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute for malt. (See: 27 C.F.R. § 25.11.) The regulations refer to a malt beverage containing less than 0.5% ABV as a “cereal beverage.” (See: 25.11.) Because NA beer contains less than 0.5% ABV, TTB will not treat it as a “beer” under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and accordingly it will not be subject to federal alcohol excise taxes in the United States.
  • Formula Requirements: Once a process is developed for an NA malt beverage and prior to production, a formula must be submitted and approved by TTB. If an NA malt beverage is “alcohol-free,” TTB policy is to require submission of laboratory testing results.
  • Labeling: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) regulates malt beverages, regardless of their alcohol content, if they meet the Act’s requirements of containing some malted barley, some hops (or hop parts or products) and having been subject to fermentation. An anomaly exists because the FAA Act’s definition of “malt beverage” does not include any minimum or maximum threshold of alcohol content. Because nonalcoholic and alcohol-free beers are produced like conventional beer and then de-alcoholized, they fall under TTB’s labeling and advertising jurisdiction. Several regulations specifically address such products. (See: 27 CFR § 7.71.)
  • FDA Requirements: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires NA beverages that are not malt beverages under the FAA Act (beverage without malt and hops or an unfermented beverage) to be labeled in accordance with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) 15 U.S.C. §§ 1451-1461, and the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act 21 U.S.C. §§ 343-350. (Click here for more information.) These statutes and the FDA regulations require a full ingredient list and nutritional facts label. If an NA beverage without malt or hops or an unfermented beverage is being considered, a full explanation of the FDA requirements will be needed to develop a compliant production, labeling and marketing plan. The FDA has industry guidance on labeling and formulation of “dealcoholized beer.” (See: FDA CPG Sec. 510.400, updated Nov. 2005.)
  • Production Process Issue: If the production process for an NA beverage includes removal of alcohol from beer through reverse osmosis or other processes that separate alcohol from the other components of a beverage, the process may be considered distilling operations, which will require a federal basic permit for a distilled spirits plant. (SeeATF Ruling 85-6.)
[...]

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Mississippi Supreme Court Rejects ‘Passage of Title’ DTC Theory

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.

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Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down New Distribution Statute as Unconstitutional

In a win for alcohol beverage suppliers, on Wednesday the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an opinion in The Institute For Responsible Alcohol Policy v. State ex rel. Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement Comm’n. In a 5-4 ruling, the court struck down as unconstitutional a statute requiring the top 25 wine and spirits brands in the state, by volume, to be offered to all wholesalers without discrimination. The effect of the ruling is that a supplier of any brand of alcohol is free to choose its preferred or potentially exclusive distributor in the State of Oklahoma.

As background, Oklahoma has historically prohibited suppliers of wine and spirits from having an exclusive distribution relationship with an Oklahoma wholesaler, and required suppliers to sell their products to any Oklahoma wholesaler desiring to purchase them. For those familiar with the concept of “franchise” laws in the alcohol beverage industry—which typically require suppliers and wholesalers to establish exclusive distribution relationships—this provision effectively operated as a “reverse franchise” law.

Following a voter referendum in the fall of 2016, Oklahoma enacted a constitutional amendment overhauling its alcohol beverage laws. As part of the legislative changes, a new statute authorized suppliers to appoint a single wholesaler for their products in Oklahoma. The new statute allowed, but did not require, suppliers to establish exclusive distribution relationships with Oklahoma wholesalers.

As a reaction to the constitutional amendment and 2016 legislative changes, Oklahoma enacted a new law in May 2019 that partially restored the reverse franchise law, requiring any wine or spirit product constituting a “top brand” (i.e., by volume) to be made available to all Oklahoma wholesalers. A number of parties, including The Institute for Responsible Alcohol Policy and several members of the alcohol industry, comprising the supplier, wholesaler, and retailer tiers, sued to challenge the law. The plaintiffs argued that the law conflicted with the new constitutional amendment.

In August 2019, a district court judge held the law unconstitutional. The wholesalers appealed, and in this ruling the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision. Specifically, the court’s majority opinion held:

  1. The statute in question is “clearly, palpably, and plainly inconsistent” with the 2016 constitutional amendment’s provision giving discretion to a supplier of spirits or wine to determine what wholesaler(s) sells its products. Because the statute “infringes on a manufacturer’s constitutionally granted discretion to select one wholesaler to the exclusion of all others,” it is unconstitutional.
  1. The statute “is not a proper use of legislative authority,” as the constitutional amendment does not conflict with the Oklahoma constitution’s prohibition on anti-competitive activities (i.e., monopolies). The amendment does not require suppliers to sell their brands to only one wholesaler, and instead places discretion in the hands of the suppliers to determine how they will distribute their products in the state.

The ruling allows for a level playing field for all suppliers, including suppliers of high-volume brands in Oklahoma, to determine how their products will be distributed in Oklahoma.




Craft Beer Mergers and Acquisitions

Over the past several months, 15 notable deals have taken place in the craft beer space, continuing a trend toward consolidation in the industry. While the terms of most transactions remain undisclosed, the deals generally fall into three buckets:

  1. Strategic deals designed to combine leading brands and brewers and leverage distribution capacity;
  2. Targeted asset acquisitions designed primarily to expand brewing capacity; and
  3. Restructuring transactions.

McDermott’s Marc Sorini, Thomas Conaghan and Daniel McGuire walk through notable strategic deals, asset/capacity purchases and restructurings.

Access the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, November/December 2019.




2nd Circ. Tussle Distills Court Divide on Booze Laws

Sharp disagreements in the Second Circuit over whether a Connecticut liquor law runs afoul of antitrust law, recently exposed in a bitter dissent, highlight a circuit split that some experts predict will be taken up by the US Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel upheld the law in February by batting down a retailer’s challenge to three parts of Connecticut’s liquor sales law, including a controversial “post and hold” provision that lets wholesalers match each other’s prices. The panel rejected the retailers’ claim that the provision forced wholesalers into illegal price-fixing deals.

“There is a split, and it’s an important area,” said Raymond Jacobsen Jr., McDermott partner, backing the retailer’s view that the “post and hold” requirement creates a clear state-sanctioned violation of the Sherman Act. He said he believes it’s a question that will intrigue the justices.

Access the full article.

Originally published on Law360, September 2019.




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