Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

On October 11, 2017, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) reopened the comment period for the following three notices of proposed rulemaking:

  1. Notice No. 160, Proposed Revisions to Wine Labeling and Record Keeping Requirements

TTB proposes to amend the labeling and record keeping requirements of 27 C.F.R. part 24. The proposed rule provides that standard grape wine containing 7 percent or more alcohol by volume (ABV) covered by a certificate of exemption from label approval may not be labeled with a varietal (type of grape) designation, a type designation containing a varietal significance, a vintage date or an appellation of origin unless the wine is labeled in compliance with the appropriate standards in 27 C.F.R. part 4 for that label information. TTB also seeks comments on alternate proposals submitted during previous comment periods for Notice No. 160.

Comments are due on or before January 9, 2018. You may view the original notice and rule here. Comments on this proposed rule amendment can be made electronically here.

  1. Notice No. 164, Wine Treating Materials and Related Regulations

TTB proposes to amend the regulations regarding wine production found in 27 C.F.R. part 24 regarding permissible materials and treatments used to treat wine and juice for wine. These proposed amendments respond to wine industry members seeking greater flexibility in wine production.

Comments are due on or before January 9, 2018. You may view the original notice and rule here. Comments on this proposed rule amendment can be made electronically here.

  1. Notice No. 165, Proposed Addition of New Grape Variety Names for American Wines

TTB proposes to amend wine labeling regulations found in 27 C.F.R. part 4 by adding additional grape variety names approved for use in designating American wines. TTB believes these changes will allow wine bottlers greater flexibility and provide consumers with more information while continuing to protect against deceptive labels.

Comments are due on or before December 11, 2017. You may view the original notice and rule here. Comments on this proposed rule amendment can be made electronically here.

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

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently notified holders of permits that were originally filed in paper of plans to move all permits to the Permits Online (PONL) system this fall. This could lead to substantial delays due to the volume of permits included.  Industry members who wish to submit requests ahead of that time can send their information (EIN, Permit and Registry Numbers) to Permits.Online@ttb.gov and enter Permits Online Data Load in the subject line of the email. Filing amendments electronically has historically been significantly faster using TTB’s PONL system.

How is it that the Brewers Association—an organization that has no political action committee, has employed a staff lobbyist for only 18 months, and has only had a strong presence in Washington since 2009—has gained significant traction among policymakers in the nation’s capital?

The BA is now a serious player in Washington. That is not by accident; it’s a carefully conceived strategy implemented by the BA board and senior staff—including president and CEO Bob Pease—over the last seven years that seeks to leverage the inherent strengths of America’s small craft brewers.

Read the full article, originally published in the September/October 2016 issue of The New Brewer.

Most breweries have numerous deal­ings with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and un­derstand the need to comply with TTB regulations; this includes preparation for TTB audits and inspections. But the TTB is not the only federal agency with the authority to con­duct a brewery inspection.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also inspects food facilities, including breweries, to ensure they comply with FDA regulatory require­ments. The FDA may conduct inspections as the result of routine surveillance, product quality is­sues, consumer complaints, or recalls. The agen­cy also may conduct inspections to follow up on a previous inspection or an FDA enforcement ac­tion. The FDA also contracts with state and local food protection programs to conduct inspections and provide certification and training.

Read the full article, originally published in the July/August 2016 issue of The New Brewer.

What’s in a name? (Or a slogan, logo, symbol or other source-identifying device?) Well, turns out a lot. While the craft spirits industry is a tight knit and collegial community, businesses must strive to create a unique and distinctive place in the market that makes their products stand out from the rest. For small distillers, who may have leaner advertising budgets than the spirits giants, one effective way to plant your flat in the ground and say “This is who we are, come and join us!” is through trademarks.

A trademark is any word, name, symbol, logo and/or device the identifies the goods and services of one party, and distinguishes such offerings from those of others.

Below we provide some tips and recommendations for small distillers to consider when selecting and protecting trademarks.

Read the full article (originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Artisan Spirit).

On March 16, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a list of frequently asked questions expanding further on a ruling issued in February on application of the federal “tied house law” to industry promotional activities, specifically category management practices employed by retailers.

TTB claims that a formal rulemaking to revise its tied house regulations is not necessary: “TTB Ruling 2016-1 merely provides guidance as to the plain meaning of the existing regulation under 27 CFR 6.99(b). It does not change TTB’s longstanding position, nor does it change the meaning of the plain language of this regulatory exception.” So let’s look at the plain language:

The act by an industry member [supplier or wholesaler] of providing a recommended shelf plan or shelf schematic for distilled spirits, wine, or malt beverages does not constitute a means to induce within the meaning of section 105(b)(3) of the [Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA)] Act.

That statement on its face is an open-ended authorization to provide shelf schematics. It says nothing about the products of other industry members or whether the plan is written on a napkin or in a sophisticated IT system that is used for inventory management at hundreds of stores.  Continue Reading Tied House Laws and Category Management: A Continuing Quandary

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act).  The PATH Act amends several provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) administered by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  Those amendments relate to alcohol excise tax due dates and bond requirements, the definition of wine eligible for treatment as “hard cider” for tax purposes, and cover over of rum excise taxes imported from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.  In January 2016, TTB issued an announcement concerning the IRC amendments.

Starting with the first calendar quarter of 2017, taxpayers who anticipate being liable for no more than $1,000 in alcohol excise taxes (for sales of distilled spirits, beer and wine) for the calendar year, and who were not liable for more than $1,000 in such excise taxes the prior year, may make excise tax payments annually (rather than the current quarterly payment requirement).  Further, beginning the first calendar quarter of 2017, taxpayers eligible to pay taxes annually under the new provisions, as well as taxpayers currently eligible for quarterly payments of alcohol excise taxes (i.e., taxpayers anticipating being liable for no more than $50,000 in alcohol excise taxes, and who were not liable for more than $50,000 in such excise taxes the prior year), need not file a bond.

The PATH Act also modifies the definition of wine eligible for the tax rate applicable to “hard cider” by (1) increasing the allowable alcohol content from 0.5 percent to less than 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) to 0.5 percent to less than 8.5 percent ABV; (2) increasing the allowable carbonation level from 0.392 grams of carbon dioxide per 100 milliliters of wine to 0.64 grams; and (3) expanding the definition by allowing the use of pears, pear juice concentrate and pear products and flavorings in hard cider.  These changes apply to hard cider removed after December 31, 2016.  The hard cider definition changes do not affect other requirements applicable to ciders above 7 percent ABV under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, including requirements relating to labeling, advertising and permits.

Another section of the PATH Act extends the temporary increase in the limit on cover over of rum excise taxes to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands from January 1, 2015 to January 1, 2017.  This amendment applies to distilled spirits brought into the US after December 31, 2014.

As it does twice per year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently published its projected Regulatory Agenda as part of the federal government’s “Unified Agenda.”  Links to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s portions of the Unified Agenda appear below.

TTB’s latest contribution to the Unified Agenda lists six priority projects that it hopes to publish rulemaking notices on in 2016:

  1. Revise TTB’s import and export regulations to make them compatible with the International Trade Data System (ITDS).  ITDS aims to create a single electronic exchange portal for all import and export activities.  TTB expects to propose these new regulations by March 2016.
  2. Revise TTB’s labeling regulations for wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages (beer) to eliminate outmoded, ineffective and excessively burdensome regulations.  TTB plans to propose these revised regulations for industry and public comment sometime before the end of 2016.
  3. Finalize new regulations on specially denatured and completely denatured alcohols.  Most notably, the new regulations would re-classify many specially denatured alcohol products as completely denatured alcohols – greatly reducing the amount of regulatory oversight over such products.  The final regulations would build off a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in June of 2013, and TTB expects to finalize these regulations shortly.
  4. Propose new regulations to permit the self-certification of flavors and other non-beverage articles as eligible for “drawback.”  By permitting industry self-certification, TTB would greatly reduce the number of regulatory filings required of the flavor, extract and fragrance industries.  TTB expects to publish proposed regulations before June 2016, coupled with a “Temporary Rule” permitting industry members to begin self-certification immediately.
  5. Revise the Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) regulations to reduce the TTB-mandated monthly reports required by DSP operators from four to two.  $11,000 to $16,000.Already subject to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2011, TTB plans to press ahead with a “Supplemental” Notice by March 2016.
  6. Make an inflation-adjustment to the civil penalties for violations of the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act of 1988, which mandated the now-familiar Government Warning on all alcohol beverage labels.  TTB plans to publish a Final Rule in 2016 to raise the maximum penalty for violations from $11,000 to $16,000.

In addition to the six priority items above, TTB’s portion of the Unified Agenda includes dozens of other rulemaking projects, from those completed in the most recent fiscal year to issues expected to be first raised in a rulemaking notice during the following year.  As with prior years, the industry must view TTB’s expected publication and completion dates with a great degree of caution, as resource challenges, political pressure and other factors often delay the rulemaking process.

Click here to view the Statement of Priorities.

Click here to view the All Treasury Agenda.

Potential product recall situations rank among the most stressful that a producer can face. Things move fast and decisions must be made with less-than-perfect information. While no preparation will render such situations easy or routine, a producer can reduce the stress level and help navigate this “worst-case” scenario by understanding the process and taking certain steps to prepare. The article linked below aims to familiarize producers with the recall processes and situations while suggesting areas where preparation can help.

Read the full article, originally published in the Winter 2015-16 issue of Artisan Spirit Magazine.