(Un)Happy Hour Regulations

February 10, 2016

Several states restrict or ban happy hour promotions, and many people assume that these restrictions are a remnant of Prohibition. However, the practice of “happy hour”—gathering before dinner for cocktails, wine, or beer—did not actually arise until during Prohibition. Because the sale of alcohol was illegal, drinking was a surreptitious activity performed in the privacy of homes or speakeasies. Thus, enthusiastic imbibers would gather in private for a couple of drinks prior to heading out to a public establishment for dinner, where alcohol would not be served. Following the repeal of Prohibition, happy hour specials were popular at restaurants and bars across the nation. However, the 1980s brought an increased focus on preventing drunk driving, which spurred changes to alcohol laws. In 1984, President Reagan signed a bill encouraging the nationwide adoption of 21 as the minimum drinking age, and states that refused to raise the legal drinking age to 21 lost substantial federal highway funds. Also, during this time, several states and municipalities passed laws banning happy hours in an attempt to reduce excessive consumption and drunk driving.

Happy hour regulations can take many forms. Examples of happy hour promotion types that are frequently prohibited or restricted include:

  • Unlimited Drinks — Many states, including New York, prohibit on-premise licensees from offering unlimited drinks for a single price. See N.Y. Alc. Bev. Cont. Law § 117-a.
  • Specials Lasting Only a Portion of the Day —North Carolina is one of several states that disallow on-premises licensees from offering a reduced price drink for only a portion of the day, such as between 4-6pm. See 14B N.C. Admin. Code 15B .0223.
  • Specials Only Available to a Segment of the Population — North Carolina also prohibits drink specials that are only offered to a segment of the population, such as a “Ladies’ Night” special. 14B N.C. Admin. Code 15B .0223. California also prohibits businesses from offering discriminatory price specials, such as specials that are based on a patron’s sex. Cal. Civ. Code § 51.
  • “Two-for-One” or Multiple Drink Specials — Several states, including Virginia, prohibit retail licensees from selling multiple drinks for a single price, such as a “two-for-one” special. See 3 Va. Admin. Code § 5-50-160.
  • Stacking – Massachusetts and Hawaii do not permit retail licensees to deliver more than two drinks to one person at one time, while Connecticut prohibits the delivery of more than one drink to any one person at one time. 204 Mass. Code Regs. 4.03; Honolulu Liquor Comm’n, Rule 3-84-78.52; Conn. Agencies Regs. § 30-6-A24b.
  • Temporal Restrictions — Ohio permits “happy hour” time periods, where drinks may be sold at a reduced price; however, no “happy hour” specials are permitted after 9pm. Ohio Admin. Code 4301:1-1-50.
  • Limit to Amount of Discount – Some states regulate the permissible amount of a discount for drinks for on-premises consumption, such as South Carolina which prohibits discounts greater than 50%, and Tennessee where drink discounts may not result in a price below the licensee’s cost. See S.C. Code Ann. § 61-4-160; Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-4-203.

Although many states have regulations prohibiting happy hour promotions, there have been some permissive changes in the past few years. In 2012, Kansas relaxed its laws regarding on-premises alcohol promotions, and drink specials that last only a portion of the day or apply only to a segment of the population are now permissible. In 2014, Virginia revised its happy hour laws slightly, allowing bars and restaurants to use the phrase “happy hour” via advertisements both on and off the licensed premises. In 2015, happy hour returned to Illinois, which now allows licensees to offer temporary drink specials for up to four hours per day, and not more than fifteen hours per week.

For advice regarding your state’s regulations governing happy hours and other alcohol promotions, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


2015 at the TTAB: Are All Alcoholic Beverages Related Goods for Trademark Purposes?

January 25, 2016

In 2015, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) continued the trend of finding different categories of alcoholic beverages to be related goods for purposes of a Section 2(d) likelihood of confusion analysis. Although there is no per se rule that all alcoholic beverages are related goods, trademark examiners at the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”), the TTAB, and reviewing courts routinely find that beer, wine, spirits, and other alcoholic beverages are related goods. For the average consumer or business owner, the grouping of all alcoholic beverages together as related goods for trademark purposes makes little sense. As the TTAB has stated, “[w]hile it is clear that tequila and wine are both beverages that contain alcohol, not even an unsophisticated purchaser would mistakenly buy one expecting the other.” In re Proximo Spirits, Inc., Serial No. 85865962 (Mar. 16, 2015) (not precedential). However, the question is not whether the goods are similar or competitive, but rather the question is whether a consumer encountering the goods in the market “would mistakenly believe that they share or are affiliated with or sponsored by a common source.” Anheuser-Busch, LLC v. Innvopak Systems Pty Ltd., 115 U.S.P.Q.2d 1816 (TTAB 2015) (precedential).

Why does the TTAB frequently find, when the marks are similar, that consumers would believe alcoholic beverages of different types originate from a common source? One reason is that some manufacturers produce multiple types of alcoholic beverages and sell those beverages under the same mark. In In re Sugarlands Distilling Company, LLC, the TTAB cited five examples of wineries also engaged in distillation and the sale of spirits, as well as “internet evidence show[ing] that there are a number of combination wineries and distilleries,” and that evidence alone was sufficient for the TTAB to find that the goods, wine and spirits, were related. Serial No. 85818277 (Nov. 20, 2015) (not precedential); see also In re Sonoma Estate Vintners, LLC, Serial No. 85842056 (Jan. 9, 2015) (not precedential) (citing fifteen registrations showing that various entities registered a single mark for wine and beer). The TTAB also typically finds that alcoholic beverages are sold in the same channels of trade, such as liquor stores and restaurants, and thus that consumers will encounter multiple types of alcoholic beverages in the same stores. In re Brent Theyson, Serial No. 85663894 (Dec. 4, 2015) (not precedential); In re Millbrook Distillery, LLC, Serial Nos. 85924732 and 85954556 (Feb. 9, 2015) (not precedential). Further, the TTAB commonly finds that alcoholic beverages of all types can be found at lower price points, and thus that consumers may purchase alcohol “without exercising great care.” In re Millbrook Distillery, LLC, Serial Nos. 85924732 and 85954556; Anheuser-Busch, LLC, 115 U.S.P.Q.2d 1816. These factors all tend to lower the bar for a finding of likelihood of confusion by the PTO and TTAB.

See below for examples of cases involving the relatedness of alcoholic beverages that were considered by the TTAB in 2015:

Contrary to the above trend, the TTAB reversed a refusal to register REUBEN’S BREWS (and design) in Class 32 for beer, despite the prior registration of RUBENS (and design) in Class 33 for wine. In re Reubens Brews LLC, Serial No. 86066711 (Oct. 27, 2015) (not precedential). The TTAB found the marks to be different in appearance, meaning, and commercial impression, although they were similar in sound. Considering evidence of manufacturers producing both beer and wine, an overlap in trade channels, and similar price points, the TTAB conceded that the “record establishes that there is some degree of relationship between beer and wine.” However, the TTAB acknowledged that the PTO “has in the recent past taken inconsistent positions when it comes to likelihood of confusion between marks for beer and wine,” and cited eighteen examples of similar or identical marks registered to different owners in beer and wine. The TTAB ultimately found in favor of the applicant, and reversed the refusal to register. However, the TTAB stressed that the finding was based on the “overall differences between the marks in their entireties.”

Notwithstanding the TTAB’s reversal in the REUBEN’S BREWS case, it would be premature to conclude that the PTO or the TTAB will increasingly recognize the potential differences between types of alcohol products, so it would be wise to consider trademarks in use on beverages of all types when evaluating a trademark for use with an alcoholic beverage product.

For specific trademark guidance, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


Federal Definition of “Hard Cider” Will Be Expanded in 2017

January 18, 2016

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (“PATH Act”) (LINK). The PATH Act provides for changes to the definition of “hard cider,” which will bring valuable tax rate changes for some makers of cider and perry. Currently, “hard cider” is defined as a “still wine derived primarily from apples or apple concentrate and water, containing no other fruit product, and containing at least one-half of 1 percent and less than 7 percent alcohol by volume.” 26 U.S.C. § 5041(b)(6). Because the current definition of hard cider states that the wine must be still, the definition excludes ciders with carbonation in excess of 0.392 grams of carbon dioxide per 100 milliliters. 26 U.S.C. § 5041(a). The current definition also excludes perry, which is wine made from pears. Finally, the alcohol content of many wines made from cider apples ranges from approximately 5% to 8.5% alcohol by volume, and cider products with more than 7% alcohol do not meet the current hard cider definition.

Beverages that meet the definition of hard cider are taxed at the rate of 22.6 cents per gallon. 26 U.S.C. § 5041(b)(6). This rate is much more favorable than the $1.07 per gallon tax rate on still table wines, as well as the $3.40 per gallon tax rate on sparkling wines, and the $3.30 per gallon tax on artificially carbonated wines. 26 U.S.C. § 5041(b). Passage of the PATH Act will be welcome news to the cider and perry producers who have advocated for an expansion of the definition of hard cider in order to get the lower tax rate. Beginning on January 1, 2017, the definition of hard cider will be a wine that meets the following parameters:

  • Contains not more than 0.64 grams of carbon dioxide per 100 milliliters;
  • Made from apples, pears, or concentrate of apples or pears and water;
  • Contains no other fruit product or fruit flavoring other than apple or pear; and
  • Contains at least 0.5% and less than 8.5% alcohol by volume.

For more information on cider and perry, see our July 29, 2015 blog post “Comparing Apples and Pears” (LINK), and contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for further guidance.


TTB Further Expands List of Malt Beverage Ingredients Exempt from Formula Approval

December 28, 2015

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has further expanded the list of ingredients used in the production of beer that are exempt from the formula requirements of 27 C.F.R. § 25.55. On December 17, 2015, the TTB issued Ruling 2015-1, Ingredients and Processes Used in the Production of Beer Not Subject to Formula Requirements (LINK), which modifies and supersedes Ruling 2014-4. Ruling 2014-4 exempted 35 ingredients from formula approval requirements, including ingredients such as honey, chocolate, cherries, oranges, allspice, and clove. Ruling 2015-1 now exempts more than 50 additional ingredients from the formula requirements, including ingredients such as tea, oyster shells, jasmine, rosemary, grapes, and figs. A complete list of ingredients used in the production of beer that are exempt from formula requirements is located in Attachment 1 to Ruling 2015-1 (LINK).

Ruling 2015-1 also clarifies the TTB’s position regarding extracts, essential oils, and syrups. These preparations may contain alcohol or other ingredients, and thus are not exempt from formula requirements. For example, although vanilla, spearmint, and strawberries are included on the list of exempt ingredients, the use of vanilla extract, essential oil of spearmint, or strawberry syrup would still trigger the formula requirements of 27 C.F.R. § 25.55.

Ruling 2015-1 was issued in response to an ongoing conversation between the TTB and the Brewers Association, which has been petitioning the TTB since 2006 to expand the list of exempt ingredients. The most recent Brewers Association petition was submitted on September 30, 2015, and Ruling 2015-1 exempts all of the ingredients requested by the Brewers Association in that petition, with the exception of licorice, juniper branches, pluot, spruce leaves, squid ink, and woodruff. The TTB declined to adopt licorice as an exempt ingredient due to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations regarding that ingredient. The TTB declined to adopt the remaining ingredients at this time because it did not find that the available data established that these ingredients are “traditional” in the production of beer. Although the TTB did not exempt all the ingredients requested by the Brewers Association, the TTB is open to future petitions from brewers regarding additional ingredients that brewers believe should be exempted from formula requirements. A procedure for such a petition is located at 27 C.F.R. § 25.55(f).

Contact an attorney at Strike & Techel today with any questions about beer regulations or formula requirements.


New California Law Creates License for Craft Distilleries, Updates Spirits Tasting Rules

October 13, 2015

On October 8, 2015, California Governor Brown signed the Craft Distilleries Act of 2015 into law, which creates a new license for craft distilleries. AB 1295 is a step forward for craft spirits producers, who will no longer be subject to the same strict restrictions that apply to traditional Distilled Spirits Manufacturers (Type 4 licensees). The new Craft Distiller’s license allows the production of up to 100,000 gallons of distilled spirits each year and also includes several other key privileges not available to larger distilleries that hold Type 4 licenses: Craft Distillers will be able to sell distilled spirits to consumers, operate restaurants from their premises, and hold interests in on-sale retail licenses.

AB 1295 adds several sections to the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, including Business and Professions Code Sections 23500 through 23508. Those sections include the following privileges for Craft Distillers:

  • Manufacture of up to 100,000 gallons of distilled spirits each fiscal year (July 1 – June 30), excluding any brandy the licensee may have produced under a Brandy Manufacturer license. Licensees can also package, rectify, mix, flavor, color, label, and export distilled spirits manufactured by the licensee.
  • Sale of up to 2.25 liters of its distilled spirits per consumer, per day, in conjunction with instructional tastings held on its licensed premises.
  • Operation of a bona fide eating place on its licensed premises or a location contiguous to its premises, from which the licensee may sell beer, wine, and distilled spirits.
  • May hold an interest in up to two California on-sale licenses, provided certain conditions are met.
  • Cannot be issued to anyone who manufactures or has manufactured for him over 100,000 gallons of distilled spirits, whether inside or outside California, excluding any brandy the licensee may have produced under a Brandy Manufacturer license.

The new bill also amends Business and Professions Code Section 23363.1 to allow Craft Distillers to conduct distilled spirits tastings either: a) off their licensed premises at a nonprofit event held under a nonprofit permit; or, b) at their licensed premises under specific conditions. The other notable change to the statute is that tastings can be provided in the form of a cocktail or mixed drink, and the sample size limitation has been changed to one and one-half ounces maximum per consumer per day. Those changes apply to both Craft Distillers and Distilled Spirits Manufacturers.

The new laws take effect January 1, 2016.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about distillery licenses in California or elsewhere.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 • All Rights Reserved •


California Brewpub Licenses: What You Need to Know

October 08, 2015

Craft beer continues to be all the rage in California and across the country. With the increase in demand for local craft beers, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to get licensed as a brewery in California. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) issues three primary license types that permit beer production, including Beer Manufacturer licenses (Type 1), Small Beer Manufacturer licenses (Type 23) and the increasingly popular On-Sale General Brewpub license (Type 75). The license privileges of each type of brewery license vary, and the brewpub license is a good choice for brewers that primarily want to operate a brewpub or microbrewery restaurant rather than sell their beers for consumers to drink off the brewery’s premises.

A Type 75 brewpub license authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption at a bona fide eating place, which essentially requires that the facility be a restaurant with its own kitchen that serves meals. The ability to sell distilled spirits as a brewpub is a privilege that many find attractive in deciding between brewery licenses. Type 1 and Type 23 breweries may, but are not required to, operate bona fide eating places, but they are limited to beer and wine, and cannot sell distilled spirits. Additionally, beer, wine, and distilled spirits restaurant licenses (i.e., Type 47 On-Sale General for Bona Fide Public Eating Place) are often extremely expensive as the number of licenses issued is limited per county based on population. There is no cap on the number of Type 75 licenses that can be issued, so the Type 75 license can be an attractive option for businesses that want to sell distilled spirits, although all Type 75 licensees must meet certain brewing requirements.

Brewpubs must produce at least 100 barrels of beer per year and can produce no more than 5,000 barrels of beer per year. That production cap is substantially lower than the production allowances for Small Beer Manufacturers (less than 60,000 barrels per year) and Beer Manufacturers (60,000 barrels per year or more). Additionally, a Type 75 brewpub premises must have brewing equipment that has at least seven-barrel brewing capacity. The ABC has recently been looking into the brewing equipment of Type 75 licensees and enforcing against brewpubs that aren’t actually brewing beer or don’t have the requisite brewing capacity.

Other key features of Type 75 brewpub licenses include the following:

• Cannot make sales from the brewpub premises for off-premises consumption. This means that a brewpub cannot sell bottles, cans, growlers or other containers for consumption away from the brewpub.

• Can sell beer produced by the brewpub to California licensed wholesalers.

• Must buy all wine, distilled spirits, and beer not produced by the brewpub from a licensed wholesaler or winegrower. Note that brewpubs cannot buy or sell beer or other alcoholic beverages from other brewpubs or retailers.

The initial fee for a brewpub license is currently $12,000, which is more expensive than most California license types. The annual fee is determined by the population where the brewpub is located, and varies between approximately $500 and $1,000 per year. Additionally, local rules where the brewpub is located may require additional permitting or other approvals before the brewpub can operate. Lastly, all breweries, including brewpubs, must obtain a brewery basic permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade bureau, the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages. There is no fee for the federal permit, but a bond is required.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about starting a brewery!


Re-Register Your Labels in Louisiana

September 28, 2015

Louisiana recently changed its system for label registration, and all labels previously registered with the state must be re-registered in the new system by the end of 2015.

Louisiana is one of many states that requires label registration before alcoholic beverages can be sold in the state. Until recently, Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals handled the registration process, but as of August 2015, the label registration function is being handled by Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), the state’s alcohol beverage regulatory agency. The move should create a more efficient registration system, and allows the same agency that enforces alcoholic beverage laws to oversee the label registration process, which is consistent with how registration works in nearly all other states that have a registration requirement.

Labels must now be renewed annually, and all labels currently registered in the state must be updated with the ATC by December 31, 2015. Importantly, label registration can be completed online here. When a licensee with a valid Louisiana license number submits a label with an approved Certificate of Label Approval (COLA), the registration process is complete with no need to wait for further approval. Additionally, the price to register labels has been reduced from $27 per label to $5 per label.

Call one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about label registration in Louisiana or other states.


Staying up to Date

August 31, 2015

Congratulations! You have your alcohol license and you are now in business. Don’t forget though, applying for and getting your license is not the end of your regulatory responsibilities – you also have ongoing reporting obligations. If anything changes in your business, e.g., if you get new investors, or some investors leave, if you appoint a manager, if your officers or directors change, or if you move or open a new location, you must report it to the licensing authorities. Depending on the nature of the change, it may even be deemed a license transfer and may require the same type of paperwork that was involved in getting your license in the first place.

A winery in Northern California recently found this out the hard way after it failed to update its federal permit when there was a change of ownership, with shares in the business being moved into a trust. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) discovered this fact during a routine audit and took disciplinary action. The winery settled the matter by submitting an offer in compromise of $3,000, for failing to meet its reporting and tax obligations, which was accepted by the TTB. You can find out more HERE.

An industry member’s reporting obligations should not be taken lightly. If you make any changes to your business, you should report them as soon as possible. In California and under the federal regulations, you have thirty (30) days to report such changes and failure to do so may expose your license to disciplinary actions like the one described above.

If you have any questions about reporting or licensing, please contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 • All Rights Reserved •


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