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

Category archives for “COLA”

How About a Bacon Flavored Beer?

July 9th, 2014

“Ready-to-drink” alcoholic beverage categories are continuing to boom. Variously known as flavored malt beverages (FMBs), alcopops, progressive adult beverages (PABs) and ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs), all sorts of flavors are being added to all sorts of products to create new taste sensations. Despite RTDs generally suffering some decline after Four Loko triggered state bans on adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages (covered herehereherehere, and here), the category has well and truly picked up again in recent times.

If you are looking to produce a flavored product, we have put some tips together to keep in mind.

Formulation Issues

One of the key things under federal law to be aware of with FMBs is that most of the alcohol must come from the malt beverage base. If the product is below 6% alcohol, at least half of the alcohol must come from the production of the beverage itself and cannot come from nonbeverage items like flavorings (which often contain high alcohol levels). Above 6%, no more than 1.5% of the alcohol can be from nonbeverage ingredients.

For wine-based products, an important factor to keep in mind is to make sure that your formula leaves you with a product that you can sell in grocery stores in states that do not allow them to sell wine. In New York, for example, a wine product that can be sold in grocery stores must meet a strict definition which includes that it must be below 6% alcohol, and it must contain juice and carbon dioxide. If you can meet the definition, you fall outside price posting requirements in the state, but you still have to register the brand there. Similarly, in a state like New York, you should be aware that a distilled spirits based RTD, even if below 6% or 7% alcohol, can’t be sold at grocery, convenience and pharmacy type stores where most low alcohol products are sold.

Labeling Issues

It is important to know about the various regulatory agencies that monitor the labeling of alcoholic beverages. FMBs and wine coolers, depending on their alcohol content, could fall under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), or both. For example, labeling requirements for wines containing 7% or more alcohol are controlled by the TTB, but wine coolers under 7% alcohol are regulated by the FDA, because such products do not fall under the federal definition of wine. In addition, labeling requirements for beers not made from malted barley and hops are regulated by the FDA (such as sorghum beer), while malt based products and distilled spirit based products are subject principally to TTB requirements.

If your product falls under TTB’s labeling jurisdiction, you will need to get a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) and you will likely need to get formula approval (see, for example, our previous blog on easing up of beer formula requirements here). If your product label is FDA regulated, you will have to include a nutrition facts statement and other information that would not be required under the TTB labeling regulations. Bear in mind that even products under FDA jurisdiction for labeling still may need TTB formula approval.  You need to be careful about using any type of name which makes customers think that the product might be a spirit drink if it isn’t (including cocktail names like margarita or daiquiri).

Recycling

In addition to formulation and labeling issues, recycling laws surrounding FMBs and similar products can be tricky. Ten states, including California (with its CalRecycle program), Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont, have container recycling laws that apply to a variety of alcoholic beverages.  The specific products that are subject to the laws vary from state to state, as do the container marking requirements. Wine- and spirits-based products may be subject to recycling laws, even in states where wine and distilled spirits are exempted.

Conclusion

Before producing a flavored malt beverage or other ready to drink beverage, be sure to familiarize yourself with the special rules that apply to these products. For questions about any of these products, 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 ·

TTB Loosens the Reins on Malt Beverage Formula Requirements

June 16th, 2014

In an industry ruling issued June 5, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced that malt beverages made with certain ingredients, including honey and certain fruits and spices, would no longer be subject to formula approval requirements. Additionally, the ruling exempts beer aged in barrels previously used in the production of wine or distilled spirits from the need to get a formula approval. Under the TTB regulations, ingredients and processes used in the production of malt beverages must be deemed “traditional” in order to be exempt from formula and certain labeling requirements. Until the ruling was issued, TTB had a very limited view of what met the requirements for “traditional” malt beverage production.

The ruling stems from a years long battle with the Brewer’s Association, which petitioned back in 2006 and 2007 to exempt certain ingredients and processes from rigorous approval requirements in light of growing experimentation and trends in the beer industry. The petition identified the most popular ingredients and processes, and urged the TTB to broaden their definition of “traditional” brewing methods. Initially, the TTB gave a limited response and exempted beers with added brown sugar, candy sugar or lactose from approval and special labeling requirements. With the new ruling, the options for adding ingredients to standard beers and other malt beverages without needing to go through the formula approval process are greatly expanded. Additionally, there is an opportunity for brewers to request exemption from formula requirements even if their ingredients are not already on the approved list.  A full list of the approved ingredients and processes can be viewed here.

Before the ruling, if flavors were added before, during, or after the fermentation process, that had to be included on the label. Now, the requirement for flavors is that the statement be truthful and in accordance with trade understanding. So for example, a brewer cannot say “ale brewed with cherries” if the cherries were added after the brewing process. To be clear, a statement must still appear on the label to show the addition of any non-standard beer ingredient; the ruling now simply allows for more relaxed processing and avoids the need for formula approval.

The TTB’s expanded ruling of “traditional” brewing ingredients and methods bodes well for brewers and importers looking to get a quick(er) approval for their products and will help speed up all formula approvals due to the reduced TTB workload. Currently approved formulas and labels will not be affected by the ruling.

For questions about brewing requirements, 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 ·

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 ·

Federal Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau (‘TTB’) Shut Down

October 1st, 2013

Effective October 1, 2013 TTB has suspended operations as part of the federal government shutdown.  TTB.gov remains operable and industry members can continue to file electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes online.  However, all E-applications including Permits Online, Formulas Online and COLAs Online are unavailable. Please refer to the TTB’s cessation notice here.

What does this mean for Industry Members? The short answer is that processing times will slow or stop until funding has been restored. It is still too soon to tell what the long term impacts will be, but in the short term we anticipate significant delays in the issuance of basic permits, label approvals and formula approvals. We’ll keep you posted as the situation develops.

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

TTB Says Alcohol Content Can Move to the Back Label for Wine

June 10th, 2013

Announced today, and effective August 9, 2013, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (the TTB) has announced changes to its labeling requirements for wine. Amending 27 CFR 4.32, the alcohol content for wine no longer must appear on the brand label, and instead it may be printed on the brand label or on other labels affixed to the bottle, including the back label. The TTB also amended 27 CFR 4.36 to the effect that wines with alcohol content of at least 7 percent and no more than 14 percent may still be labeled with either (a) the designation of “light wine” or “table wine” on the brand label, or (b) the numerical alcohol content of the wine. The new amendments do not permit the “light wine” or “table wine” designations to appear on any label other than the brand label. A new COLA is not required if the only change made to an approved label is the relocation of the alcohol content statement.  If you have any questions about labeling, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

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

Do “Illegal” Alcohol Sales Create Trademark Rights? The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Says Maybe So.

November 26th, 2012

As more and more beverage brands are introduced into the U.S., it is becoming increasingly difficult for suppliers to come up with unique trademarks that do not infringe marks already in use by others. As a result, trademark disputes involving alcohol beverage brands are common. Such disputes typically come down to the issue of priority of use – if the marks and the products are very similar, i.e., both are alcoholic beverages – the party with first commercial use will have priority and will likely be entitled to register the trademark. One of the fundamental elements used to prove first-use for alcohol products and to establish priority over other users is the date on which a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) was issued. As most alcoholic beverage producers and importers are aware, a COLA is required before alcohol products can be legally imported or sold in the U.S.  Sales of such products without a COLA would constitute an illegal sale under 27 CFR 4.50 (wine) 5.51 (distilled spirits) and 7.41 (beer). Because sales of a product without a COLA are not legal sales, they do not constitute bona fide use in commerce and may not be relied upon in establishing trademark priority. At least, that’s what many of us thought. But a recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) suggests otherwise.

In an opposition proceeding involving the PARLAY trademark, both parties were using the same trademark on wines and the parties disagreed on who had priority. The opposer argued that the earliest use date relied on by the other party was actually before the labels had been issued a COLA; therefore, they were unlawful and did not count for trademark priority. But the TTAB ruled against the opposer, noting that even if sales without a COLA were not strictly compliant with the federal labeling regulations, that was not sufficient to deny that user priority rights. Rather, the opposing party is required to show either: (1) that a court or regulatory body had made a formal determination of non-compliance, or (2) that the improper usage was so “tainted” it could not create trademark rights. In other words, if the labels were otherwise approvable and not misleading or deceptive to consumers, sales of those products without a COLA may still be used to establish priority, even though not technically legal. In the PARLAY case, the TTAB also noted the Draconian result of denying priority because of a regulatory lapse occurring several years before. The TTAB decision is non-precedential, so it’s not binding and future decisions of the TTAB may come out differently. But for those of us who frequently scan the TTB COLA registry to determine trademark priority, this decision is of great interest.

For trademark or COLA help, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

Excising Effervescence: Who Sets Federal Tax Rates?

July 30th, 2012

Excise taxes on wine can vary substantially depending on whether or not the wine is sparkling or still wine. For example, wine containing 14% alcohol or less is taxed at a rate of $1.07 per gallon, while naturally sparkling or artificially carbonated wine is taxed at the much higher rate of $3.40 per gallon. See 26 U.S.C. § 5041. For domestic wine, the tax rate is established when TTB classifies a product during the certificate of label approval (COLA) process. If there is uncertainty over how wine should be classified, a producer may submit the product to the TTB laboratory for analysis and a determination of the proper classification. 26 U.S.C. § 5041 defines still wines as “those wines containing not more than 0.392 gram of carbon dioxide per hundred milliliters of wine.” Accordingly, if a product with carbonation below that level is classified as a sparkling wine, and therefore subject to a higher tax rate, a producer may submit the product to TTB to seek to have the product reclassified.

Ensuring the proper tax classification for imported wine can be more difficult because of the role of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) in the determination and collection of excise taxes. Imported wine is subject to the same excise tax rates as domestic wine, but taxes on imported wine are collected by CBP at the U.S. port of entry. The CBP does not necessarily rely on TTB’s classification of an imported wine for tax purposes, and instead has the discretion to make its own determination on the tax classification of the imported product. For example, TTB may classify a product as “still wine,” but CBP may still tax the wine at the higher sparkling wine rate if it appears to CBP to be a sparkling wine product.

To challenge the tax rate imposed by the CBP, an importer may seek an Official Ruling Request, and rulings are typically issued within 30 days of the request. Information on how to file an Official Ruling Request can be found here. Importers or their brokers may also seek to correct past overpayments of excise taxes by filing a Post-Entry Amendment if the taxes were recently paid, or a Protest if the taxes for a particular shipment have been “liquidated,” which typically occurs approximately 10 months after the taxes are paid to the CBP.

Contact the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about federal excise tax collection.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Implements Changes to Break COLA Logjam

July 11th, 2012

TTB recently released a new Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) form for alcoholic beverage labels, Form 5100.31, available here. The new form has several minor changes, but the most significant update is the expansion of the revisions that can be made to an approved label without having to submit a new COLA application. The new form should be a welcome change for industry members, who can now make more modifications to existing labels without waiting for TTB to approve the changes. The change is expected to significantly reduce the number of COLA applications submitted to TTB, thus reducing the turnaround time for new labels. The form became official early this month, and among the new revisions permitted to labels without the requirement of a new COLA application are:

- Re-position of label information, including text, illustrations, and graphics.

- Change of colors (background and text), font type and size, spelling and punctuation, and change from an adhesive label to one that is etched, painted, or printed directly on the container.

- Add a vintage date for wine labels (note that changing or deleting a vintage date was previously permitted, and the new form is only a change to the extent a vintage date is added where there was no vintage date previously).

- Change the optional “produced” or “made” by statements on wine labels to “blended,” “vinted,” “cellared,” or “prepared” by statements.

- Add, delete, or change UPC barcodes and/or 2D mobile barcodes, e.g., QR codes or Microsoft Tags (previously, only “UPC codes” were explicitly listed).

- Add, delete, or change trademark, copyright symbols (e.g., TM, ©), kosher symbols, company logos, and/or social media icons.

- Add, delete, or change information about awards or medals.

- Add, delete, or change holiday, and/or seasonal-themed graphics, artwork, and/or salutations.

- The new form also removes the requirement for separate COLA applications for packages that are 237 mL and below or 3 liters and above.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about the new form or the COLA application process.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

Gluten Claims on Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits Labels

May 30th, 2012

TTB issued an extensive ruling last week that provides guidance to industry members seeking to label their products with statements about gluten-content. TTB Ruling 2012-2, available here, serves as in interim policy on the gluten-related labeling claims, until such time as the FDA, which governs labeling for all food items, and TTB finalize rules on the subject. As consumer demand for all types of gluten-free foods and beverages has risen over the last several years, proper labeling of those products has been a difficult issue for both the FDA and TTB. At its core, the problem is that testing for gluten-content remains imprecise. As a result, laws and regulations that permit labeling products as “gluten-free” or claiming a certain amount of gluten content have been slow to develop, and TTB’s practice has been to reject label applications that include gluten-based claims. TTB’s interim policy provides a means for industry members to include some gluten-related labeling information on their labels, and will likely result in the approval of more labels that claim to be gluten-free or low in gluten.

The FDA, and by extension TTB, has struggled with a definition for “gluten-free” for nearly a decade. The FDA was first tasked with issuing a rule to define “gluten-free” with the passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The FDA then issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2007, proposing to define the term “gluten-free.” The proposed definition included that the item have no more than 20 parts gluten per million. The FDA has still not issued a final rule, and in 2011 recognized that for some food types, including fermented foods, there are no validated methods to determine if the product contains less than 20 parts gluten per million. Throughout the FDA’s process, TTB has deferred making its own rules related to gluten. The interim policy is TTB’s first effort to address the issue.

TTB regulates alcohol labeling and advertising through the Federal Alcohol Administration Act “FAA Act” and its regulations at 27 CFR parts 4, 5, and 7. At issue are regulations that: a) prohibit the use of labeling or advertising statements that are false or untrue in any particular, b) prohibit, irrespective of falsity, statements that directly, or by ambiguity, omission or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific or technical matter, tend to create a misleading impression, c) prohibit the use of any health-related statements in the labeling or advertising of wine, distilled spirits, or malt beverages if such statements are untrue in any particular or tend to create a misleading impression.

In its interim policy, TTB agrees with the FDA that “there are no scientifically valid methods for accurately measuring the gluten content of fermented products.” Up until now, this fact and the requirement that TTB prohibit misleading labels and advertising has meant that labels that include gluten-related claims have been rejected. TTB’s new guidelines provide a means for industry members to get labels approved that previously would have been rejected.

The interim policy sets forth two primary rules. First, TTB will allow the term “gluten-free” on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For example, wines produced from grapes or vodka produced from potatoes may include the statement “gluten-free” on their labels or advertising material. No products made from gluten-containing materials may be labeled as “gluten-free.” For those products made from gluten-containing materials, including spirits and malt beverages “produced using wheat, barley, rye, or a crossbred hybrid of these grains,” TTB will allow labels that contain all of the following information: 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. Approved statements may not contain any reference to the level of gluten in the product. Additionally, in order to evaluate the method used to remove gluten from the product, TTB will require submission of results of the “R5 Mendez Competitive ELISA assay” for the finished product for the purpose of screening the validity and effectiveness of the method used to remove gluten. Such statements may only be made on labels where the gluten content is less than 20 parts per million.

Despite the strict standard set by the TTB for gluten-related labeling, the new guidance is likely to result in numerous submissions for label-approvals based on the new rules.   For additional information on labeling issues, feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

New TTB Guidance on COLAs

October 13th, 2011

The TTB recently announced new guidance on personalized labels, which supersedes its prior guidance in TTB G 2010-1 from April 7, 2010. The guidance provided in 2010 did not allow changes to artwork or graphics on a personalized label without resubmission of the label for approval. The TTB has relaxed its view and now will allow changes to graphics and artwork on personalized labels without requiring application for a new certificate of label approval (“COLA”). Names, event dates and salutations can also be changed without applying for a new COLA, as was previously allowed under the 2010 guidance. Personalized labels are for use with targeted customers or clients for things like weddings and grand openings. They are distinct from private labels, which remain subject to the standard COLA requirements and require resubmission for a COLA when label artwork is changed.

In order to obtain this flexibility on personalized labels, such preference must be indicated on the initial COLA application and the information that may change must be described. The label must still contain all standard mandatory label information. When issuing the COLA approval for personalized labels the TTB will include a qualification stating that the COLA covers the label and any changes in “graphics, salutations, congratulatory dates and names, and artwork to personalize the label as indicated on the application.” The new guidance is available here. If you would like to discuss COLA applications, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.