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Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

Category archives for “beer lawyer”

Brewing Beer in California

April 14th, 2014

With the explosive growth in craft beers and micro and nano and other really, really small breweries, we at Strike & Techel wanted to put together some helpful tips for anyone looking to brew beer in the state. If you want to make beer commercially, these guidelines will help you work out the best way to start your new business. You will find three ways to get going in the guidelines: small beer manufacturing, beer manufacturing (over 60,000 barrels of beer), and brewpub operations where you get to brew beer and sell it to people in a restaurant or pub setting.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about brewing beer in California or other states.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

Nevada Signals Intention to More Actively Monitor Trade Practices

March 5th, 2014

Almost three years ago now, as reported on Imbiblog here, the TTB accepted its largest set of offers in compromise ever, for trade practices violations. Some of the biggest names in the business agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the TTB even though they denied violating any laws or regulations. The allegations of trade practice violations came from participation by the companies in the 2008-2009 Harrah’s Nationwide Beverage Program. Unlike notable earlier trade practice investigations by the TTB, where there was state participation and a parallel investigation, there were no allegations made against retailers involved in the program, and no fines or penalties assessed against retailers (see for example the 2004-2009 joint investigation by Illinois and TTB into payments made by suppliers and wholesalers to Sam’s Wine & Spirits, Inc., then the largest wine retailer in the country, and its captive third party marketing organization Skyline Marketing, Inc.). The 2011 settlement by TTB was acknowledged to result from a retailer-initiated promotional program. Given that the TTB has extremely limited jurisdiction over alcohol retailers, however, the agency was unable to enforce any allegations against Harrah’s for the promotion. Had the State of Nevada participated in the investigation, it is more likely that charges could have been brought.

Now, the Office of the Attorney-General in Nevada has come out with an open letter to retailers, wholesalers and suppliers of liquor in Nevada in what appears to signal an intention to focus more attention on trade practice issues in the State. The advice contained in the letter is phrased as a “reminder” to the industry of prohibited and restricted activities. It covers the following issues:

-          No loans from wholesalers to retailers of money or other thing of value, no investments by a wholesaler in a retailer, no complimentary furnishing of premises or equipment, and no joint operation of a retail business;

-          Adherence to strict payment terms, with no preference accorded by wholesalers to certain retailers, and with a cessation of sales and monthly service charges in case of delinquency;

-          No substitution of brands without consent, and no delivery of unwanted or unnecessary inventory;

-          No required boycotts of other suppliers;

-          No price fixing down the supply chain by suppliers imposing resale prices on wholesalers, and no profit splitting with the supplier getting a specified portion of the wholesaler’s profit margin;

-          No excessive marketing contributions being required by suppliers of their wholesalers, for promotions outside the wholesaler’s market or beyond the terms agreed by the parties;

-          Strict adherence to the quoted price from suppliers to wholesalers;

-          No discrimination by suppliers among wholesalers (note that Nevada has a franchise law meaning that this refers to discrimination between wholesalers in different parts of the state as only one wholesaler can be appointed in any given market); and,

-          No deceptive trade practices.

The letter refers to concerns with illegal terms or incentives by industry members looking for a competitive edge in the market. It notes that the Attorney General has jurisdiction over these issues and is required by law to take appropriate legal action to enforce the provisions of law setting forth the restrictions above. The Attorney General’s office recognizes in the letter its duty to investigate and prosecute deceptive trade practices in Nevada. Should the type of circumstances in the TTB’s investigation in 2011 arise again, it will be very interesting to see what action is taken by the state in light of this clear signal that it is unlikely to sit by if unlawful trade practices occur in Nevada.

If you have any questions about trade practice issues, in Nevada or elsewhere, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

Kate Hardy Joins Strike & Techel!

February 12th, 2014

We are pleased to announce that Kate Hardy has joined the firm as a partner. Kate joins Strike & Techel from Nixon Peabody LLP’s Beverage Alcohol Group. Previously, Kate spent four years as manager of the Economy and Law Commission for the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV) in Paris, preceded by years of law practice in Australia. We are thrilled to add Kate to the Strike & Techel team!

Kate’s many years of beverage industry experience will be invaluable to wineries, breweries, distillers, suppliers, importers, distributors, retailers, ecommerce providers and other industry members that make up the diverse Strike & Techel client base. To learn more about Kate and the firm, visit strikeandtechel.com.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Updates its Position on Gluten-Free Label Claims

February 11th, 2014

On Tuesday, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) issued an Announcement regarding its treatment of “gluten-free” claims on alcoholic beverage labels. As we previously blogged here, TTB has been looking into the issue of gluten-free labeling since at least 2012, and TTB Ruling 2012-2 implemented a policy of allowing the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For products made from gluten-containing materials, the 2012 Ruling implemented several requirements, including: a) a statement that the product is “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten;” b) a qualifying statement to inform consumers that (i) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten, (ii) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products, and (iii) the finished product may contain gluten; and, c) a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

TTB explains in its most recent announcement that it has finished its review of the FDA’s rule on gluten-free labeling, and has updated its requirements accordingly. TTB will continue to allow the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. However, for products made from gluten-containing materials, TTB has lessened the labeling requirements, and now provides that such products may be labeled with a statement that the product was “processed, “treated” or “crafted” to remove gluten, if that claim “is made together with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten.” Labels no longer require a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

If you have any questions about alcoholic beverage labeling, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

Getting Started in the Business: Licensing

December 12th, 2013

This blog entry is part of a continuing series discussing important steps to get started in the alcoholic beverage industry. Once you have pinpointed a location for your business (discussed in a previous post, here), you will need to obtain a license, or a combination of licenses, before you commence operations.  To determine what type(s) of license(s) you need, here are some answers to questions you may be asking:

*   Do the Tied-House Laws Permit Me to Hold the Licenses I Want?  Federally and across all states, “tied house” laws generally prohibit the same person or entity from having an ownership interest in alcohol beverage businesses in more than one of the 3 tiers -manufacturing/importing, distribution and retail.  (To learn more about tied house laws, review this post.)  However, that restriction is far from absolute.  Many statutory exceptions have been carved out of the 3-tier system to permit cross-tier licensing and the resulting patchwork of exceptions can be difficult to comprehend.  For example, in California, wineries can also own restaurants (subject to restrictions) and certain off-sale retail stores.  Small breweries (less than 60,000 barrels/year) can own on-sale retailers but large breweries cannot.  Beer and wine wholesalers cannot also be retailers, unless they sell only wine through the retail store.  Other states have their own set of hard-to-explain exceptions.

*   What Does My License Permit Me to Do?  The general rule is that manufacturers sell to wholesalers; wholesalers sell to retailers; and retailers sell to consumers.  But this, too, is riddled with exceptions.  California wineries and breweries can sell their products directly to retailers and consumers without using a distributor, but distilled spirits manufacturers can sell only to distributors and cannot themselves hold a distributor license.  Rectifiers, on the other hand, can act as their own distributor and sell their products – and spirits products made by anyone else – directly to retailers.  Moreover, you may need more than one license to operate your business.  For example, if you are going to be operating a distillery, you will need a Type 4 (Distilled Spirits Manufacturer’s license), and a Type 6 (Still) license.  If you are importing distilled spirits from outside of California and distributing them to retailers you’ll need a Type 12 (Distilled Spirits Importer), and a Type 18 (Distilled Spirits Wholesaler).  California issues dozens of different licenses so it is important to know exactly what you want to do, which licenses are needed to accomplish it, and whether you are eligible to hold them.

*   What are the Processing Times to Obtain a License?  In California, it takes about 90-120 days to process an application for a new license, and slightly less time to transfer an existing license at a premises that is already licensed. It will take longer to process an application that is incomplete, contested by neighboring residents or the local authorities, or filed incorrectly.  Also keep in mind that the ABC cannot issue a license until it has received confirmation from the City/County that all required use permits have been obtained.  Each applicant will be assigned a local ABC investigator to handle the application until the process is completed.  Currently, U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (“TTB”) licenses are processing in about 90 days, similar to California licenses.

*   May I Obtain a Temporary Permit?  Provided that you are transferring an existing license at an already licensed premises, the California ABC may grant a temporary permit so you may operate your business while the license transfer application is being processed. A temporary permit is not available in connection with applications for new licenses or applications to transfer existing licenses to a premises that has not been previously licensed.

*    What Are the Costs Involved?  Depending on what type(s) of license(s) applied for, the cost can vary considerably.  A schedule of license costs is available here.  Some retail licenses are limited in numbers and must be purchased on the open market.  Prices for these licenses vary greatly by type and location.  For instance, a Type-47 (On-sale general eating place) may sell for $200,000 in San Francisco, whereas the same type of license in Fresno County currently only costs $12,000.

In conjunction with your ABC application, you may also need to obtain other federal, state or local licenses/permits.   In California this may include, for example:  federal licenses through the TTB; a certification from the Secretary of State that you are qualified to do business in the state; and a sales tax permit from the State Board of Equalization.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about applying for a license to get started in the alcohol beverage business.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Wine Growlers From a Keg

October 29th, 2013

Keg wine is a growing trend. Packaging and selling wine in kegs has a lot of advantages. Wine kegs are refillable and reusable. Wineries save on packaging costs, and restaurants enjoy the convenience of serving many customers without constantly uncorking bottles.

Alcohol laws dictating permissible containers and packaging for wine are expanding in concert with retailer and consumer interest in keg wine. For example:

- Effective July 1, 2013, Florida allows the sale of wine in 5.16 gallon canisters, which can be tapped like kegs, to restaurants and bars.

- Effective April 1, 2013, Oregon allows any wine shop, grocery store, wine bar or restaurant to buy wine by the keg and resell it to consumers by the glass, or in some establishments, consumers can fill their own containers in a size that is 2 gallons or less.

Most states continue to have restrictions on this “growler” type of service by a wine shop. Those restrictions comport with federal rules saying that packages cannot be filled with wine except at a winery or at a “tax paid bottling house.”

We expect to see more legislation in the coming months and years if this trend continues.

If you have any questions about keg wine, feel free to consult one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Clarifications from the ABC on Sweepstakes and Contests in California

October 17th, 2013

On June 13, 2013, guests attending ShipCompliant’s “Direct 2013” conference heard from Matthew Botting, General Counsel to the California ABC, on supplier participation in sweepstakes and contests under California’s new law.  We’ve previously blogged about the new law here and here.

California Code of Regulations Title 4, Section 106 (“Rule 106”) has always allowed suppliers to “sponsor” a contest, meaning suppliers could give money or otherwise participate when the contest was organized by “bona fide amateur or professional organizations.”  Previously, the privilege was limited.  Now, the privileges are broader:  suppliers (including wineries) can now “conduct” a contest under recently enacted Business and Professions Code Section 25600.1, and conduct or sponsor a sweepstakes under 25600.2.  Mr. Botting discussed the different available privileges and their limitations:

*   “Conduct” means the promotion is managed and organized by the supplier.
*   “Sponsor” means it is someone else’s sweepstakes or contest and the supplier is providing a prize or other sponsorship of the promotion.
*    For the time being, suppliers can only sponsor a contest in accordance with the existing Rule 106, which means sponsorship is limited to a contest conducted by bona fide amateur or professional organizations.
*    Sponsoring a sweepstakes and conducting a sweepstakes or contest is now covered by Business and Professions Code Section 25600.1 and 25600.2.  Sweepstakes or contests cannot require a visit to a licensed premises of any kind, so there must be an alternate method of entry (“AMOE”) if entry forms are available at a licensee.
*     Sweepstakes and contests cannot be conducted on retail premises (e.g., a grocery store, liquor store, bar or restaurant).  A “retail premise” includes some locations you might not think of, such as: an unlicensed premises if a licensed caterer is present, or at an event held by a nonprofit under a one-day permit. The ABC considers events held with a caterer’s license or a nonprofit one-day permit to occur “at the premises of a retail licensee,” and therefore a supplier may only provide a means of entry at either of these types of events.
*     While suppliers may provide a means of entry for the contest or sweepstakes, the contest or sweepstakes may not be conducted at a winery or brewery’s duplicate tasting room.
*     A contest or sweepstakes can only be advertised at a retailer if it is advertised at a minimum of three different retailers, and winners shouldn’t be picked at a licensed retail event nor in a tasting room.

The full presentation by Mr. Botting can be seen here (starting at the 5:00 minute mark).

Before conducting or sponsoring any contest or sweepstakes, be sure to consult the relevant laws, Business & Professions Code Sections 25600.1, 25600.2, and, if applicable, Rule 106 (regarding contests), and pay particular attention to whether the supplier involved holds a license that allows it to participate.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about contests and sweepstakes in California or other states.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Facebook Eases Restrictions on Promotions Conducted on Commercial Facebook Pages

September 11th, 2013

On August 27, 2013, Facebook announced changes to make it easier for businesses to create and administer promotions on the website.  This means any business – including alcohol beverage industry members – can now collect entries for sweepstakes or contests using Facebook itself.  Prior to these changes, all promotions on Facebook had to be administered through applications.  Now, promotions can be administered on Page Timelines or in applications, though they may not be administered on personal Timelines.  For example, now it is possible for businesses to:

- Collect entries by having users post on the company’s Page or comment/like a post

- Collect entries via messages users send to the company’s Page

- Have promotions including a voting element based on likes

You can read more about the changes here.  If you have any questions about the ins and outs of using social media as part of the business marketing and promotional plans for companies in the alcohol beverage industry, call one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Can Package Designs be Registered as Trademarks?

May 6th, 2013

Alcoholic beverage products typically are sold in glass or plastic bottles or in aluminum cans. There are a few alternative packaging options, such as bag-in-box and Tetra-packs, but the beer and wine section at the grocery store is mostly full of bottles and cans. Suppliers distinguish their products from competitors’ products by creating unique brand names and label designs, both of which can be protected as trademarks. But what about the package itself? Can you register your bottle shape as a trademark? The answer is yes, if the design is distinctive and not merely functional.

U.S. trademark law (15 USC § 1052(e)(5)) provides that a proposed trademark cannot be registered if it “comprises any matter that, as a whole, is functional.” This applies to colors, sounds and also to package designs. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”) will not grant trademark registration, and the exclusivity that trademark registration provides, if it would foreclose competitors from using a design that is functional. A four-factor test was established to determine whether a container design is functional: 1) whether a utility patent exists that discloses the utilitarian advantages of the design sought to be registered; 2) whether applicant’s advertising touts the utilitarian advantages of the design; 3) whether alternative designs are available that serve the same utilitarian purpose; and, 4) whether the design results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture. Package designs commonly fail the functionality test based on at least one of the above factors because packages are inherently intended to be functional. But it is possible to incorporate design features into an otherwise functional package that are purely for aesthetics, such as the shape of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, which has been a registered trademark for decades. However, designs that are functional, such as bottle designs that offer efficient stacking or pouring methods, might be subject to refusal based on the test detailed above.

The USPTO may also refuse to register a package design if it lacks inherent distinctiveness. Several factors must be considered in evaluating a design’s distinctiveness, including whether it: 1) is a “common” basic shape or design; 2) is unique or unusual in a particular field; 3) is a mere refinement of a commonly-adopted and well-known form of ornamentation for a particular class of goods; or 4) is capable of creating a commercial impression distinct from the accompanying words.

A recent opinion issued by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in In re Mars is a good illustration of the application of the above factors to a package design – a pet food container in that case. The pet food package was an inverted cylindrical container. The registration in that case was denied based on the factors discussed above, but many package designs have been successfully registered as trademarks, so if your package has a unique element or design, you may wish to consider protecting it as a trademark.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about trademark registrations.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

We’ve Moved!

July 27th, 2011

Strike & Techel has moved offices. We’re still here for all your legal questions about the alcoholic beverage industry, but now you can find us at 556 Commercial Street, San Francisco, CA 94111.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·