Staying up to Date

August 31, 2015 | Comment

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 •


Comparing Apples and Pears

July 29, 2015 | Comment

The cider and perry industry is booming. More and more producers are entering the market, and existing producers of other alcoholic beverages are expanding into cider and perry production. Although commonly associated with beer, cider and perry are actually considered wine under federal law, and can be interchangeably labeled as apple wine or cider, and pear wine or perry. Production of cider or perry requires a bonded winery permit from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”). It must be made wholly from the alcoholic fermentation of sound, ripe apples, or sound ripe pears (the addition of sugar, water, or alcohol is permitted in specified quantities). The TTB recently updated its FAQs with a section on cider, which can be found HERE.

A cider or perry which is over 7% alcohol must be labeled in the same manner as wine, and a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) must be obtained for the product from the TTB. If it is under 7%, the product is subject to Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) labeling rules, including a required nutritional statement (see our recent blog posts on FDA alcoholic beverage labeling HERE and HERE). If any flavoring materials are added, like honey, spices, or artificial flavors, the product requires formula approval, even if it is under 7%.

Each state has its own regulatory framework for cider and perry. For example, in California, a Type 2 Winegrower can make cider and perry, and a licensed Type 1 Beer Manufacturer may also produce cider and perry without any additional state license (although they still need the TTB bonded winery permit). In New York, Breweries, Farm Breweries, and Farm Wineries can make cider and other “pome fruit” wines, including perry (again with the TTB winery permit). Interestingly, in New York, a product marketed as a cider or perry, up to 8.5% alcohol, must be brand label registered, and is not eligible for the standard wine exemption from registration.

If you have any questions about producing cider or perry, 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 •


Beer that isn’t Beer, Wine that isn’t Wine and Drinks that aren’t Beverages

April 27, 2015 | Comment

Mostly in our practice at Strike & Techel we work with clients making fairly traditional alcoholic beverage products, albeit with new flavors, production methods and quality drivers. These classic alcoholic beverages are distilled spirits, wines and beers, subject to regulation by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). More and more, however, we are called upon to work with alcohol products that fall outside the TTB’s jurisdiction, either because they don’t meet traditional definitions, or because they simply aren’t classified as beverages.

Products that do not fit within TTB jurisdiction are subject to Food & Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements. Under TTB rules, wine must contain at least 7% alcohol, and beer must be malt-based. Because of these restricted definitions, common examples of drinks that are subject to FDA rules are wine coolers and ciders below 7% alcohol, and beers that aren’t made with malt. Any beers made with other grains, like sorghum, rice or wheat (usually to be sold as “gluten free” products), are under FDA rules. These beverages do not need to obtain label approval, as a standard alcoholic beverage would, but must comply with FDA rules on labeling, to avoid in-market audits for violations. In December 2014, the FDA finally published its guidance for industry on the labeling of non-malt-based beers, which had been in draft form since 2009 (LINK). It helpfully goes through all of the FDA labeling requirements that apply to such beers. These are the same requirements that apply to any FDA-regulated alcoholic beverage, including many ready to drink (RTD) beverages, as discussed in our recent blog post (LINK). Among the key distinctions from standard alcoholic beverage labeling are that the label must include an ingredient list and a nutritional statement.

As well as regulating alcoholic beverages, FDA also regulates certain non-beverage alcoholic products. These are products which are consumed – often as cocktail ingredients – but which are not classified as beverages by the TTB because they have been deemed “unfit” for beverage purposes under TTB regulations. Common examples of these products are bitters and other alcohol-based flavorings. Attaining non-beverage status is a goal rather than a failure for these products because products eligible for non-beverage status are exempt from payment of federal excise taxes and they can be sold by retailers without an alcoholic beverage license. Products with a lot of sugar or other flavorings or ingredients that serve to make them more palatable as beverages may not make the cut as non-beverages and would remain subject to excise taxes and TTB label jurisdiction.

TTB and FDA classifications of alcoholic products have significant implications on the way they are labeled, taxed and sold, so it is important to submit these products for TTB review before bringing them to market.

For more advice on alcoholic beverages and non-beverages, 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 •


Strike & Techel is hiring!

March 27, 2015 | Comment

Strike & Techel LLP, a law firm specializing in alcoholic beverage law, is seeking an associate attorney with 2-5 years of law firm experience and enthusiasm for the alcoholic beverage field. The firm represents a broad range of clients, including producers (wineries, breweries and distilleries), importers, retailers, advertising/promotional agencies, and other related beverage industry businesses. S&T provides comprehensive counsel on a variety of topics relevant to our clients. We handle alcohol-specific matters such as regulatory compliance, dealings with state and federal alcohol agencies, and alcohol licensing, as well as general legal matters such as trademark registrations, contract drafting and review, purchase and sale transactions, etc. For more information about the firm, visit www.strikeandtechel.com.

Alcohol beverage law experience is highly desirable but not mandatory. The selected attorney will be responsible primarily for corporate matters and alcohol licensing projects. Strong corporate/transactional skills are essential, and familiarity with entity structuring and operating agreements/bylaws, commercial leases, and conditional use permits is preferred. The ideal applicant will have strong analytical, writing and communication skills, an engaging personality and a sense of humor.

If you think that you’d be a great fit with us, please send us your resume, a short sample blog post (modeled on the ones on our website) about a current alcoholic beverage issue that has caught your attention, a cover letter, references and salary requirements. In the cover letter, please tell us why you chose the issue in your sample blog post and why you are interested in alcoholic beverage law. We
will be accepting resumes through the end of April at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Changes to Small Brewery, Winery and Distillery Bonding, Reporting and Filing Requirements

March 11, 2015 | Comment

The general rule for excise tax reporting for alcohol producers is that returns must be filed semi-monthly (i.e. twice a month). A special exception to that rule allows a small producer, who does not reasonably expect to be liable for more than $50,000 in excise tax in the year, to file quarterly returns. Each small producer is required to make a choice of whether to file quarterly or semi-monthly, with that choice impacting the bonding requirements for the production facility. The less frequent the excise tax payment, the higher the required bond amount. Very small wineries currently benefit from even longer reporting and tax deadlines. Wineries that expect to pay less than $1,000 in wine excise taxes in the coming year may file excise tax returns annually. Operations reports may also be filed annually if the winery doesn’t expect to produce more than 20,000 gallons of wine in any one month in the calendar year.

Now, under recent guidance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”), small brewers will be forced to file returns quarterly rather than semi-monthly. This change will affect around 90% of licensed brewers. With the mandatory quarterly filing, the required bond is set at a flat $1,000 amount (previously, the bond for a brewer paying $50,000 in excise tax would have been $5,000 if filing semi-monthly, and close to $15,000 if filing quarterly). A brewery filing quarterly tax returns must also file a quarterly report of operations. To further lessen the burden of reporting for both brewers and TTB employees, the information required in the reports has been revised, with two sections removed. To see the full guidance, click here.

In addition to the TTB changes for small breweries, there is also a bill pending in the Senate that could reduce the compliance burden for all small producers. It would exempt small breweries, wineries and distilleries (i.e. not liable for more than $50,000 in excise tax in the year) from all current bonding requirements and would allow any small producer – not just small wineries—owing less than $1,000 a year to file annually. The proposal passed the Senate Finance Committee on February 11, 2015, and is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. It has not yet been introduced in the House.

If you have any questions about brewery, winery or distillery operations reporting or taxes, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

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


Compliance Check-In: 2014 TTB Beverage Sample Program Results

February 02, 2015 | Comment

Each year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), conducts a random sampling of alcoholic beverages, known as the Alcohol Beverage Sample Program. TTB agents purchase alcohol products from retail stores and take them back to the TTB lab for review. The survey identifies compliance issues with the tested beverages, including incorrect alcohol content levels, and Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) discrepancies. The TTB recently released the results of their 2014 review, finding 139 out of 450 total products sampled to be non-compliant.

The most commonly identified issue was mislabeled alcohol percent by volume (ABV), in which the ABV stated on the label was either above or below the actual tested alcohol content. In distilled spirits products, 42 of the 190 beverages sampled were found to contain an ABV over the advertised content, while 14 products contained a lower ABV than advertised. Aside from misleading the consumer, incorrect ABVs can lead to regulatory action from federal tax authorities if the actual alcohol content would place the product in a different tax class.

Another common compliance issue was a discrepancy between the product’s label information and the information listed on the product’s COLA. When a bottler or importer applies for label approval with the TTB, they are issued a COLA and their product’s label must match the information provided on their COLA application (with the exception of some limited information which can be changed without a new COLA). Of the 139 non-compliant products, 40 had labels with missing or added information that did not match their approved COLA.

Other prevalent compliance issues included no COLA for the product, errors in the mandatory government warning message, and incorrect statements of class or type of alcohol. Possible TTB actions in response to incorrectly labeled products could include monetary fines and other regulatory penalties, and at a minimum, would require that the non-compliant labels be corrected. To see the full results of the sample program, click here.

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


New California ABC Advisory on Merchandising Services by Suppliers

January 07, 2015 | Comment

In December 2014, the California ABC posted a new Industry Advisory about merchandising services. Free services provided by suppliers to retail licensees, such as stocking shelves, pricing inventory, rotating stock, etc., are prohibited things-of-value under California Business & Professions Code sections 25500 and 25502. However, a number of permitted exceptions are separately provided for in Section 25503.2. The Advisory was posted in response to inquiries and complaints about the scope of permissible activity. When ABC receives multiple complaints about impermissible conduct, investigations and license accusations may well follow, so it would be prudent for suppliers to review the scope of permissible merchandising activities.

Permitted activity varies depending on the type of retailer and the products involved so we created a simple chart below to help keep it straight.

Note that in all cases, any merchandising activities can only be done with the retailer’s permission. In no case can a supplier move the inventory of another supplier, except for “incidental touching” to access the space allocated to the licensee providing the merchandising service.

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


Prescriptions for Alcohol

December 04, 2014 | Comment

In honor of Repeal Day, partner Kate Hardy agreed to share these fun pieces from her collection of Prohibition-era alcohol prescriptions. One prescribes whisky for the treatment of anorexia, and the others prescribe wine and whisky for unknown ailments. The directions for usage seem reasonable enough: take a pint in a wine glass every four hours, or mix it in eggnog. One of the prescriptions is for “Vin Gallici,” a contemporary of the also often prescribed “Spiritus Frumenti.” These are liquids more commonly referred to as wine and whisky. They were used in many prescriptions during Prohibition, possibly in the hope that they would look more medicinal if they were in Latin.

Liquor Prescription Stub

Prescription form for medicinal liquor

Liquor Prescription Stub

Prescription form for medicinal liquor

Form with stub

Prescription

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


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