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Two New TTB Rulings Issued on General Use Formulas

On September 29, the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) issued two new Rulings announcing the creation “general use formulas” for certain distilled spirits and agricultural wines. These general use formulas permit the production or importation of these products without the need to first obtain an approved formula (for domestic products) or a pre-import approval (PIA – for imported products) from TTB.

TTB Ruling 2016-2 exempts from the regulations’ formula and PIA requirements most “agricultural wines,” a category that generally encompasses wines fermented from materials other than fruit. Most notably, honey wine (mead) is now exempt from the requirement to file for a formula or a PIA prior to applying for label approval and/or introducing the product into commerce.

TTB Ruling 2016-3 exempts certain categories of distilled spirits from formula and PIA requirements. For certain categories of spirits made with less than 2.5 percent “harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials,” certain specific materials are now authorized without the need to obtain formula or PIA approval. The categories and materials are:

  1. Vodka made with sugar (up to 2g per liter) and/or citric acid (up to 1 g per liter);
  2. Rum made with sugar, brown sugar, molasses and/or caramel;
  3. Certain types of whiskies made with sugar, caramel and/or wine; and
  4. Certain types of brandy made with sugar, caramel, fruit from the same fruit used to make the brandy and/or wine fermented from the same fruit.

These changes represent a modest but helpful attempt to reduce the number of formula and PIA submissions filed by the industry.

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TTB Issues Ruling on Formulas for Beer

On June 5, 2014 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued TTB Ruling 2014-4, exempting from TTB’s formula  and pre-import approval (PIA) submission requirements beer made with dozens ingredients as well as beer subjected to wood aging processes.  TTB now finds these ingredients and processes to be traditionally used in the production of beer.  The Ruling stems from a Brewer’s Association Petition filed with TTB in 2006 with the assistance of McDermott Will & Emery.  As the Ruling explains, TTB initially rejected the petition, but with continued industry interest and additional fact-finding the TTB has reversed its position.  The Ruling includes an attached list of exempted ingredients and processes, as well as examples of acceptable label designations.

Materials that brewers (including for imported or PIA beer) can now use without the need for a formula include:

  • Fruits:  Apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, juniper berries, lemons, oranges, peaches, pumpkins, raspberries and strawberries.
  • Spices:  Allspice, anise, pepper/peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cocoa (powder or nibs), coriander, ginger, nutmeg, orange or lemon peel or zest, star anise and vanilla (whole bean).
  • Other Ingredients:  Brown Sugar, candy (candi sugar), chili peppers, chocolate, coffee (beans or grounds), honey, maple sugar/syrup, molasses/blackstrap molasses and lactose.
  • Wood Aging:  Allows aging beer with plain barrels, woodchips, spirals or staves, as well as those previously used in the production or storage of wine or distilled spirits.


TTB determined that ingredients including honey, certain fruits, certain spices and certain food ingredients are part of the traditional beer making process.  Industry members remain responsible for ensuring that all ingredients are suitable for food consumption in compliance with applicable Food and Drug Administration regulations and standards.  TTB notes that when using brown sugar, candy (candi) sugar, maple sugar/syrup or molasses/blackstrap molasses in the fermentation of a beer, the beer label is not required to refer to these ingredients.  Instead, the label may identify it as a “beer,” “ale” and so forth.

Wood Aging

The Ruling finds that the process of aging beers in barrels (or with woodchips, staves or spirals from those barrels) that were used previously in the production or storage of wine or distilled spirits is a traditional process.  This finding does not apply to the use of woodchips soaked or infused with wine or spirits for the sole purpose of making beer.  Moreover, brewers must ensure that the use of previously-used barrels or chips will not add any “discernible quantityof wine or distilled spirits to the beer.  Labels do not need to state that the beer was aged in these types of containers.


TTB determined that the use of the ingredients listed in the Ruling will no longer require a statement of composition on the label that distinguishes between the exempt ingredients added before or during fermentation and those added after.  A brewer or importer now has the flexibility to label the products in accordance with the trade understanding, and the precise wording is left up to [...]

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