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Oregon Issues New Guidance on Hard Seltzer Classification

Recently, Oregon issued clarification pertaining to the classification of hard seltzers in the state. The guidance, as summarized below, impacts the majority of hard seltzers in the market. Classification of hard seltzer has a number of impacts, most notably on excise tax (or “privilege tax”) rates and licensing needed to produce, import, distribute and sell hard seltzers in the state. Specifically, Oregon has signaled that should the state’s guidance result in the reclassification of a supplier’s hard seltzer product, there may be retroactive tax liability imposed. This alert should assist those engaged in the production or sale of hard seltzer in Oregon in determining whether reclassification is necessary and the implications thereof. For specific questions on the implications of this guidance on your business, please do not hesitate to reach out to McDermott Will & Emery.

Classifications of Hard Seltzer
“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a malt beverage in Oregon:

  1. 100% of the alcohol by volume (ABV) is obtained through the fermentation of grain and the ABV is more than 0.5% but not more than 14%; or
  2. At least 98.5% of the ABV is obtained through the fermentation of grain and the ABV is more than 6% but not more than 14%. Once those criteria are met, not more than 1.5% of the ABV may be obtained through other flavoring agents containing alcohol; or
  3. At least 51% of the ABV is obtained by the fermentation of grain and the ABV is more than 0.5% and not more than 6%.

Once the criteria above is met, up to 49% of the ABV may be obtained through other flavoring agents containing alcohol.

Oregon relies on the federal definition of “grain” to mean barley, canola, corn, flaxseed, mixed grain, oats, rye, sorghum, soybeans, sunflower seed, triticale and wheat, and the subsequent definition for each grain. This may exclude hard seltzers deriving alcohol primarily through the fermentation of cane sugar from meeting the malt beverage definition in Oregon. The state may require verification that a product claimed to be a malt beverage for tax purposes is in fact produced through the fermentation of grain via the submission of an ingredients list or documentation describing the manufacturing process.

“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a wine in Oregon:

  1. An alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of vinous or fruit juice, or other fermented beverage fit for beverage purposes, and contains more than 0.5% ABV and does not contain more than 21% ABV.
  2. Wine may contain distilled liquor and other “non-traditional” ingredients, provided that it does not contain more than 21% ABV.
  3. “Wine” does not include malt beverage, cider or distilled liquor.

“Hard seltzer” must meet the following to be categorized as a cider in Oregon:

  1. An alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of the juice of apples or pears; contains more than 0.5% ABV but does not contain more than 8.5% ABV.
  2. The juice is not required [...]

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Five Tips for Making Boozy Ice Cream That’s Legal

When you think of the relationship between alcohol and food, the classics come to mind: tiramisu, coq au vin and beer cheese. While there is a long culinary tradition of using alcohol in food, the newest trend is to utilize alcohol in innovative ways in the culinary world. Recently, a popular food/alcohol combo has been in the freezer aisle where alcohol has lent its flavor to ice cream and freezer pops. Fans consider this a win-win…it cools us down in the summer and acts as a little adult refreshment at the same time. As the tasty treats gain popularity, more and more states are approving the manufacture and sale of such items. 

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that allows ice cream to be mixed with liquor. He stated this would, “help New York’s dairy farmers, liquor and craft beverage producers, dairy processors and manufacturers, food retailers, and restaurants meet the increasing consumer demand for these new and innovative products.” While New York has been able to have beer and wine mixed ice cream, liquor is new. Other states, like Ohio, have created special licenses for the explicit manufacture and sale of ice cream with beer or intoxicating liquor. 

While we believe this is a win-win for adults, this space lends itself to a number of legal hurdles. We suggest the following tips:

1. Advertise specifically to adults. While this is a given in alcohol beverages, it is a good reminder to gear your advertising towards adults only. 

2. Ensure your label is clearly marked with 21+ and the Government Warning Statement. New York specified in its most recent legislation that the label must have warnings and label requirements similar to confectionary products that contain beer, wine and cider.

3. Avoid the risk of unaware consumption. Ensure that the packaging and marketing make it very clear that the product contains alcohol.

4. Check each state to learn its specific laws. For example, in New York the maximum alcohol by volume allowed in ice cream is 5% while Ohio allows up to 6%.

5. Food that has alcohol mixed in requires the submission of a nonbeverage formula to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).   




Non-Alcoholic Beer Regulation 101

As part of the general move to better-for-you beverages, non-alcoholic (NA) options have been and will likely continue to be on the rise. However, how NA is treated, or not treated, as “beer” has significant impact on its potential route to market. The below summarizes the overall treatment of NA beer under US federal law, as well as examples of restrictions on direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipments imposed by certain states.

FEDERAL TREATMENT OF NA BEER

  • Tax Treatment: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulations define “beer” as a fermented beverage containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume (ABV) and brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute for malt. (See: 27 C.F.R. § 25.11.) The regulations refer to a malt beverage containing less than 0.5% ABV as a “cereal beverage.” (See: 25.11.) Because NA beer contains less than 0.5% ABV, TTB will not treat it as a “beer” under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and accordingly it will not be subject to federal alcohol excise taxes in the United States.
  • Formula Requirements: Once a process is developed for an NA malt beverage and prior to production, a formula must be submitted and approved by TTB. If an NA malt beverage is “alcohol-free,” TTB policy is to require submission of laboratory testing results.
  • Labeling: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) regulates malt beverages, regardless of their alcohol content, if they meet the Act’s requirements of containing some malted barley, some hops (or hop parts or products) and having been subject to fermentation. An anomaly exists because the FAA Act’s definition of “malt beverage” does not include any minimum or maximum threshold of alcohol content. Because nonalcoholic and alcohol-free beers are produced like conventional beer and then de-alcoholized, they fall under TTB’s labeling and advertising jurisdiction. Several regulations specifically address such products. (See: 27 CFR § 7.71.)
  • FDA Requirements: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires NA beverages that are not malt beverages under the FAA Act (beverage without malt and hops or an unfermented beverage) to be labeled in accordance with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) 15 U.S.C. §§ 1451-1461, and the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act 21 U.S.C. §§ 343-350. (Click here for more information.) These statutes and the FDA regulations require a full ingredient list and nutritional facts label. If an NA beverage without malt or hops or an unfermented beverage is being considered, a full explanation of the FDA requirements will be needed to develop a compliant production, labeling and marketing plan. The FDA has industry guidance on labeling and formulation of “dealcoholized beer.” (See: FDA CPG Sec. 510.400, updated Nov. 2005.)
  • Production Process Issue: If the production process for an NA beverage includes removal of alcohol from beer through reverse osmosis or other processes that separate alcohol from the other components of a beverage, the process may be considered distilling operations, which will require a federal basic permit for a distilled spirits plant. (SeeATF Ruling 85-6.)
[...]

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Importing and Exporting Beer

Importing and exporting beer or other alcohol beverages involves multiple levels of government regulation and taxation. Some regulations, taxes, and reporting requirements mirror your existing compliance obligations as a brewery. Other obligations are unique and include government agencies that are not involved in regulating domestic producers, such as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Commerce Department.

(more…)




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.




Court Dismisses Challenge to TTB’s Rejection of Health Claims on Vodka

In August, the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued its final decision in Bellion Spirits, LLC v. United States, Civ. No. 17-2538 (JEB). The Bellion case was brought by spirits company Bellion Spirits after the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) refused to approve a series of health claims advanced by Bellion in connection with its vodka products. According to Bellion, the infusion of its vodka with a compound called NTX will mitigate the damage alcohol inflicts on human DNA. (more…)




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 speech without regulatory approval becomes an outright ban on speech when the approval process is shuttered.” Shortly after the case was filed, the shutdown ended and Atlas received its COLA. The government asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that it was now moot. After giving the parties several months in which to brief the issue, the court ruled in favor of the government’s motion, finding Atlas’s case moot. (more…)




TTB Publishes New Nonbeverage Product Formula Form

On August 12, 2019, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published its updated Formula and Process for Nonbeverage Product, TTB Form 5154.1. The Nonbeverage Product approval process is critical to obtain “drawback” (a refund) on most of the alcohol excise tax on distilled spirits used to make such products deemed “unfit for beverage purposes.” The Nonbeverage Formula Form accordingly is important to producers of flavorings and extracts, soft drink concentrates and other non-beverage products made using potable alcohol. (more…)




Cannabis and Hemp Update

Cannabis legalization receives widespread popular support. According to opinion polls, more than two-thirds of Americans support full legalization—a steep rise in support considering that as recently as 2005, almost two-thirds of Americans opposed legalization. The country appears on the path to full cannabis legalization, but until that time, citizens and companies should be aware of the legal risks involved in entering the cannabis space.

Access the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, July/August 2019.




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