In the past three years, TTB has approved an increasing number of certificate of label approvals (“COLA”) for hemp-flavored vodka, from Mill Six’s hemp, white tea and ginger flavored vodka to Olde Imperial Mystic’s hemp infused vodka. Distillers have designed labels with green smoke-like images and psychedelic sixties-style lettering to hint at their cultural connection to marijuana. As more states have legalized recreational cannabis, distillers have been thinking more ambitiously about combining their distilling business with one or more aspects of the emerging marijuana business.

Read the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017.

It’s hard to deny that marijuana has a cultural connection with craft beer, or at least with substantial segments of the craft brewing community. Many craft brewers have signaled to their fans that they know a thing or two about the rituals and lingo of marijuana consumption. But with the legalization of recreational cannabis by several states since 2012, many brewers have been thinking more ambitiously about combining their brewing business with one or more aspects of the emerging marijuana business.

Read “Government Affairs Extra | Craft Beer and Marijuana.”

This article originally appeared in The New Brewer November/December 2017.

America’s brewers, distillers and wineries cannot yet raise a glass to recalibrated federal excise taxes, but they got one step closer to be able to do that on Tuesday.

That is because the provisions of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) (S. 236)—including the excise tax changes that would benefit America’s small brewers, distillers and wineries—have been included in Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s revised “Chairman’s Mark” to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that is now being considered by the Senate Finance Committee.

The inclusion of the CBMTRA is a very significant positive development for all producers of alcoholic beverages, but particularly for small brewers, distillers and wineries.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) offered an amendment to include the CBMTRA to the Chairman’s “mark” to the underlying bill and Chairman Hatch agreed to that. Co-sponsors of Portman’s amendment included Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Dean Heller (R-NV). Continue Reading “Chairman’s Mark” Includes CBMTRA Provisions to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Last month the US District Court for the Central District of California issued an order in the Shalikar v. Asahi Beer U.S.A., Inc. false advertising class action case. Like many similar cases, Shalikar alleges that the plaintiffs, as representatives of a purported class of consumers, were deceived into paying more for Asahi beer because they believed the beer was made in Japan when, in fact, the beer sold in the United States was produced in Canada. In the recent order, the court denied Asahi’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (a 12(b)(6) motion).

The Shalikar plaintiffs brought their case under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition Law, and False Advertising Law, and also pled common-law claims for breach of implied warranty, fraud, intentional misrepresentation and unjust enrichment. Asahi beer that is sold in the United States is brewed in Canada, and each label states “Brewed and Bottled under Asahi’s Supervision by Molson Canada, Toronto, Canada.” Each label also states “Product of Canada” as required by US customs regulations. Plaintiffs alleged, however, they were deceived into paying more for the product because the labels and packaging use the word “Asahi,” which means “morning sun” in Japanese, and the label and packaging employs Japanese characters in several places. Plaintiffs also produced a survey purporting to show that the beer’s packaging led 86 percent of the respondents to believe that the product was brewed in Japan. Continue Reading Ruling in the Asahi Beer Class Action

On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Matal v. Tam, declaring the Trademark Act’s (commonly referred to as the “Lanham Act”) “disparagement clause” unconstitutional as a violation of the free speech principles embodied in the First Amendment. If the case name doesn’t ring a bell, the players involved might. The decision was the culmination of Simon Shiao Tams’ fight to obtain a federal trademark registration for “THE SLANTS” for use in connection with his rock band. The term “Slants” can be used as a racially pejorative word for persons of Asian descent and was selected by the Asian-American band in an effort to “reclaim” the derogatory term. Tam’s win at the Supreme Court, however, wasn’t only a victory for his band. The Washington Redskins, who are also engaged in a protracted legal battle to maintain their trademark registrations despite challenge from a Native American group, hailed the decision a success. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, simply stated: “I am THRILLED.”

Continue Reading.

Recently, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued an update to its existing public guidance on personalized labels. The current update clarifies the process for obtaining an approved COLA for personalized labels without requiring the applicant to resubmit the COLA application for certain changes made to the labels.

Earlier this month, a Massachusetts state trial court judge issued a decision in the matter of Craft Beer Guild LLC d/b/a Craft Brewers Guild v. Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. The court upheld a decision by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) finding violations of Massachusetts’ trade practice laws by a large beer distributor. The case originated in the Fall of 2014, when a craft brewer alleged on Twitter that a Boston retailer had removed the brewer’s brands from the tap because suppliers and distributors were paying retailers in exchange for those retailers carrying their brands. The ABCC launched an investigation that culminated in administrative charges against Craft Beer Guild LLC d/b/a Craft Brewers Guild (CBG) for violations of Massachusetts’ anti-price discrimination statute (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 138, § 25A(a)) (the Statute) and an ABCC regulation prohibiting inducements by licensees (204 Code Mass. Regs. § 2.08) (the Regulation).

After a hearing, the ABCC found that CBG violated the Statute and the Regulation based on its alleged implementation of schemes with multiple retailers and third-party management companies working on behalf of the retailers to provide payments in exchange for the retailers committing tap lines to CBG’s brands. The payments allegedly involved fictitious invoices issued by the third-party companies to CBG, as well as CBG’s payment of at least $120,000 to the retailers and/or third-party companies.

In lieu of a suspension, CBG paid a record-setting fine of more than $2.6 million to settle the violations. CBG then appealed the ABCC’s decision in March 2016. In June 2017, CBG filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Massachusetts trial court held a hearing in September 2017, and then a few weeks later issued the order denying the motion, dismissing CBG’s complaint and affirming the ABCC’s decision against CBG. Continue Reading Massachusetts Court Upholds Record $2.6M Fine against Beer Distributor

On September 29, 2017, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued Ruling 2017-2, which updates and supersedes older agency guidance on allowable returns of beer and malt beverage products that contain “pull dates” or other indicators of product freshness.

The Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act includes a general prohibition on “consignment sales,” 27 USC 205(d). Congress believed that all transactions should be “bona fide” sales. Id. The intent was to prevent a wide range of unscrupulous practices that might occur if manufacturers and wholesalers furnishing alcohol beverages to retailers on consignment or with the right of return.

The FAA Act prohibition on consignment sales does not apply to “transactions involving solely the bona fide return of merchandise for ordinary and usual commercial reasons arising after the merchandise has been sold.” Id. TTB regulations provide an extensive list of reasons that a manufacturer or wholesaler can accept returns. 27 CFR, Part 11, Subpart D. Continue Reading TTB Issues Guidance on Application of Consignment Sales Regulations to Freshness Dating and Returns from Retailers

On Friday, October 13, 2017, a Texas Court of Appeals handed down the long-awaited decision in Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission v. Mark Anthony Brewing, Inc., No. 03-16-00039-CV.

The case involves Texas’ ban on private-label malt beverage/beer labels, which appear in regulations that are one aspect of the state’s comprehensive tied-house laws. Mark Anthony Brewing sought a declaratory ruling on those Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) regulations after the TABC refused to approve the labels for Mark Anthony’s T.G.I. Friday’s branded flavored malt beverages. T.G.I. Friday’s is also, of course, a well-known retail chain. Mark Anthony produces the T.G.I. Friday’s line under a trademark license from the retailer, as governed by a trademark licensing agreement between the parties.

A Texas trial court ruled in favor of Mark Anthony, holding that the TABC regulations in question violate the First Amendment. The trial court further ruled that Mark Anthony’s sales of the product and the licensing agreement between Mark Anthony and T.G.I. Friday’s either did not violate Texas’ tied-house prohibitions or, in the alternative, those prohibitions were unconstitutional as applied to Mark Anthony’s sales and the parties’ agreement. Continue Reading Texas Court of Appeals Reverses T.G.I. Friday’s Label Decision

On September 29, 2017, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced a proposal to extend the compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label final rule and the Serving Size final rule. For manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales, the date will change from July 26, 2018, to January 1, 2020.  Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would receive an extra year to comply—until January 1, 2021.

FDA’s proposal addresses only the compliance dates. The FDA is not proposing any other changes to the Nutrition Facts Label and Serving Size final rules.  While this rulemaking is being completed, FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to the current July 26, 2018, and July 26, 2019, compliance dates. A copy of the public inspection version of the proposed rule can be found here.