ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
distilled spirits
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Federal Alcohol Excise Taxes 101

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. Access the full article. Originally published in Artisan Spirit Magazine: Winter 2020.

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TTB Label Approval System Survives First Amendment Challenge from DC Brewery

I. Factual Background During the 34-day government shutdown occurring between December 2018 and January 2019, producers and importers of beer, wine and distilled spirits needing label approval to bring new products to market were forced to wait until the shutdown was resolved, when TTB could begin again to process COLA applications. The difficulties presented by this situation included the prospect of needing to destroy valuable, perishable inventory. Unable to obtain a COLA due to the shutdown, Atlas Brew Works (Atlas) filed suit in January in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of the COLA system. Atlas alleged that the requirement to obtain label approval violates the First Amendment, since, in the event of a government shutdown, the COLA requirement amounted to a prior restraint on protected speech. As the court explained in its opinion, Atlas’s argument boiled down to the claim that “a law that prohibits...

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TTB Publishes NPRMs to Repeal Standards of Fill for Wine and Distilled Spirits

On Monday, July 1, 2019, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published two eagerly anticipated notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) to largely repeal the standards of fill for wine and distilled spirits containers. The highlights: In the preamble to both NPRMs, TTB advances a number of significant policy beliefs on the topic of standards of fill, including: Standards of fill are no longer needed to help protect the revenue and enforce the excise tax. Standards of fill are not critical to protecting consumers, because consumers can rely on mandatory net content statements on labels. The lack of any standards of fill for malt beverages has not created any revenue or consumer deception problems. For spirits, TTB proposes to eliminate all standards except for a minimum of 50 milliliters and a maximum of 3.785 liters (one gallon). The maximum reflects the Federal Alcohol Administration Act’s statutory maximum for distilled spirit containers. For...

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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.  The updated Regulatory Agenda lists the following projects of interest: Wines, Distilled Spirits and Malt Beverages In terms of importance, the list must begin with TTB Notice 176—the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to “modernize” the labeling and advertising regulations applicable to all three commodities. Comments on Notice 176 are due on or before June 26, 2019. Three separate entries continue to...

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Distilling Lessons from Recent Trademark Cases

Craft distillers know the value of a good trademark. The name of a particular spirit, a logo, or a label design can be vitally important to a brand’s identity (and a distiller’s bottom line).  They also know how complicated—and legally fraught—branding can be. For better or worse, trademark disputes involving alcohol beverage products are becoming increasingly common. The disputes that make it to court provide valuable insight that could prevent future legal headaches surrounding the selection, protection, and enforcement of alcohol beverage trademarks. Read the full article. Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Fall 2018.

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TTB to Allow Proprietors to Request Alternating Premise Variances for Storage of Tax- and Non-Tax-Determined Commodities

On May 16, 2018, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued Industry Circular 2018-3, allowing proprietors of distilled spirits plants (DSPs), bonded wine cellars (BWCs) and breweries to submit a request for a variance to the typical method for storing tax-determined and non-tax-determined products. Under TTB regulations, a proprietor designates areas of the premises as bonded and non-bonded. With few exceptions, tax-determined products can only be stored on non-bonded areas of the premises and non-tax-determined products can only be stored in bonded areas. Under Industry Circular 2018-3, proprietors may request a variance to the bonded/non-bonded designations established in existing regulations. This variance would allow an “alternation” of a specific area or multiple areas between a bonded and non-bonded designation. An “alternation” allows two practices (e.g., brewing and winemaking) statutorily prohibited from occurring at the same premise...

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USDA Publishes Proposed GMO Labeling Regulations

The Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a proposed rule containing regulations to implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. See 83 Fed. Reg. 19860 (May 4, 2018). The proposed regulations would govern the labeling of raw agricultural products and packaged foods whose labeling is governed the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act, including wines below 7 percent alcohol by volume and non-malt beer (e.g., “hard seltzers”). The proposed regulations would not directly apply to alcohol beverages whose labeling is governed by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, including all distilled spirits, wines containing 7 percent alcohol by volume or greater, and beer containing malted barley and hops. Nevertheless, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau may look to the bioengineered food disclosure regulations as persuasive guidance in developing its own...

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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...

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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. The updated Regulatory Agenda lists the following projects of interest: Wines, Distilled Spirits and Malt Beverages The reform of TTB’s labeling and advertising regulations for all three commodities, on the Regulatory Agenda for years, now indicates that TTB...

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TTB Modified Tax Filing Timeframe for Some Taxpayers

On January 4, 2017 TTB published in the Federal Register a temporary rule, T.D. TTB–146, modifying the tax filing timeframe for taxpayers who fall below a certain monetary threshold and removing the bond requirements for certain eligible taxpayers who pay taxes below certain maximum amounts on distilled spirits, wine and beer. See 82 Fed. Reg. 1108 (Jan. 4, 2017). Congress mandated these changes when it enacted the PATH Act in December 2015, and the changes became effective on January 1, 2017. The temporary rule involves two primary changes: Taxpayers who do not reasonably expect to be liable for more than $1,000 in alcohol excise taxes (for distilled spirits, wine and beer) in the calendar year and were not liable for more than $1,000 in the prior year can pay their taxes annually rather than quarterly or semi-monthly. If a taxpayer has multiple locations, the $1,000 threshold applies to the combined total. A taxpayer must select the return period on its...

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