TTB COLAs and Formulas
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Winds of Change Blowing for Craft Brewers

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.

Access the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2019.




TTB Spring 2019 Updates to Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

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…)




Washington Court of Appeals Upholds Multi-Million Dollar Fine for 5-Hour Energy Advertising Claims

On March 18, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision that three advertising campaigns for 5-Hour Energy® made by Living Essentials, LLP and Innovative Ventures, LLP (collectively, Living Essentials) violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by making deceptive advertising claims.

Living Essentials makes and markets the energy drink 5-Hour Energy®. The three advertising claims at issue involve claims about the efficacy of the drink. Living Essentials claimed or implied that: (1) 5-Hour Energy® was “Superior to Coffee” (Superior to Coffee claim); (2) decaf 5-Hour Energy® was effective “for hours” (Decaf claim); and (3) 73 percent of doctors would recommend 5-Hour Energy® (Ask Your Doctor claim). The trial court found all three advertising claims in violation of the CPA. It also assessed a civil penalty against Living Essentials of $2,183,747 and awarded the State $1,886,866.71 in attorney fees and $209,125.92 in costs. The court of appeals affirmed.

Living Essentials argued on appeal that the trial court (1) erred by adopting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) prior substantiation doctrine; (2) that the prior substantiation doctrine violates article I, section 5 of the Washington State Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) that Living Essentials’ claims were mere puffery which did not require substantiation; (4) the trial court applied the wrong standard for necessary substantiation; and (5) the trial court erred in concluding that Living Essentials’ Ask Your Doctor claim was deceptive. Living Essentials also challenged the trial court’s penalty and award of attorney fees. (more…)




TTB Publishes Updated Guidelines for Formula Approvals for Domestic Producers and Importers

On September 18, 2018, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued TTB Industry Guidance 2018-10, a webpage consisting of questions and answers related to formulas. According to TTB, this new guidance “essentially replaces” Industry Circular 2007-4, which provided the framework for pre-COLA product evaluations. TTB has removed Industry Circular 2007-4 from its website.

The release of Industry Guidance 2018-10 comes with troubling implications. TTB has essentially revoked an Industry Circular signed by TTB Administrator John Manfreda and replaced it with a series Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with no clear authorship or authority. Furthermore, they have deleted Industry Circular 2007-4, preventing industry members from reviewing how these FAQs differ or alter the previous method for determining when formulas are required. Indeed, TTB seems to be significantly expanding the types of products that require formula approval. TTB notes in the new FAQs that “there may be circumstances when we will require a formula . . . even though the product does not generally require a formula.” See Industry Guidance 2018-10, FAB4.

TTB has recently required formulas for products, such as particular varieties of mezcal and spirits aged in previously used cooperage, where formulas were not previously required. It appears where no regulatory restrictions on aging (e.g., length of time or type of barrel) exists for a particular type/class of distilled spirits, TTB will more than likely request a formula approval prior to reviewing a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) application. Some products may not require a formula if the label text only specifies the type of barrel used for aging, i.e., “Aged in used bourbon barrels.” But if the label mentions any attribute the aging provides to the liquid (e.g., “notes of sweet corn” or “hints of charred wood”) then TTB will likely require a formula.

Although TTB previously made strides in increasing speeds in which COLAs and formulas were reviewed, these new requirements will increase the compliance workload and approval timelines for TTB as well as alcohol beverage industry members. In addition to the challenges created by increasing the number of products requiring formulas, more questions are likely to arise under the anonymous FAQs, which replaced the longstanding protocols in Industry Circular 2007-4.




TTB in a Deregulatory Mood

Changes in Administration and other political shifts can have subtle and, occasionally, not-so-subtle influences in the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) policies and priorities. In the article, “TTB in a Deregulatory Mood” published by Artisan Spirit, Marc Sorini explores how the Trump Administration’s desire to reduce regulatory burdens on business has already influenced TTB’s regulatory priorities. Particularly, in the most recent “Unified Agenda,” a bi-annual compilation of federal regulatory initiatives, TTB placed a priority on deregulatory projects, several of which would alter the regulatory environment for the industry. Marc discusses how the change in administration appears to have an effect on TTB’s rulemaking efforts.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit, Spring 2018.




TTB Expands COLA Allowable Revisions

TTB Industry Circular 2018-2, dated March 26, 2018, expanded the list of allowable revisions for approved Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) applications. The three new allowable revisions are to:

  1. Add, delete, or change between TTB approved responsibility statements;
  2. Add, delete, or change between TTB approved sustainable farming/environmental/eco-friendly claims; and
  3. Add, delete, or change between TTB approved food pairing recommendations.

The Industry Circular also expanded the TTB approved statements under the allowable revision regarding how to best consume or serve the product. For a complete list of approved statements for these new and expanded allowable revisions, please see the full Industry Circular located here.




District Court Issues Opinion in Old Charter Bourbon False Advertising Class Action

On February 5, 2018, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri issued an opinion in one of the many false advertising class actions brought against the industry in the past five years.

Penrose v. Buffalo Trace Distillery, E.D. Mo. 4:17-cv-00294-HEA, involves the labeling of Old Charter bourbon. For years, Old Charter sold an 8-year-old version and a 12-year-old version, with their labels very prominently displaying “8” and “12” (respectively) in several places. According to the complaint, in January 2014 Old Charter “8” was re-formulated to use less-aged bourbon, described by the court as “non-age stated” or “NAS” bourbon. The labels, however, continue to prominently display the number “8” in the same manner as the prior label. In addition, while the label previously stated “aged 8 years,” the NAS bourbon’s label states “gently matured for eight seasons.” The court’s opinion catalogues a number of alleged complaints by consumers that they were deceived into purchasing the NAS product on the mistaken belief that the bourbon was still aged for eight years. Significantly, the complaint alleges that the price for Old Charter “8” remained the same after the reformulation. (more…)




Additional Rum Cover Over for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands Approved in 2018 Budget Legislation

Early this morning, both houses of Congress approved the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018,” complex legislation that includes important modifications to an arcane law known as the “rum cover over,” which is an important revenue source for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI).

The temporary excise tax relief provided to distillers in the 2017 federal tax reform law will not diminish the amount of federal excise tax revenue covered over to the treasuries of Puerto Rico and the USVI. The 2017 tax reform law included a two year reduction in the federal distilled spirits excise tax rate from $13.50 per proof gallon to $2.70 per proof gallon on the first 100,000 proof gallons of distilled spirits, and $13.34 per proof gallon on the next 22,130,000 proof gallons produced by each distillery or each controlled group of distilleries. The 2018 Budget Act treats all rum subject to the rum cover over as if it is subject to the full $13.50 per gallon excise tax rate. (more…)




TTB Updates to the Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

Last week in its regular newsletter, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced updates to the Fall edition of the semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda). Like other federal agencies, TTB uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects.

In the updated agenda, a few new items have been added, and many expected publication dates of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs), Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) and Final Rules have changed. As always, 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…)




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