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

Selling Alcohol to California Consumers Online

September 4th, 2014 | Add a comment »

Traditionally a customer wanting a bottle of alcohol in California would go to their local package or grocery store to get it or, if they were lucky enough to be in wine country, directly to a winery. In recent years, with consumers actively experimenting and looking for more variety, and with the boom in online shopping generally, consumers have a lot more options to find that elusive boutique wine, craft beer or small batch spirit brand that they have heard about and have been looking for. All of this means that consumers are turning more and more to the internet to find the alcohol that they want to serve at home. A quick Google search of internet alcohol sales in California yields more than 10 million results.

SPIRITS: Only a California Type 21 off-sale general licensee can sell a bottle of distilled spirits direct to consumer (DTC). Although a distiller can host a customer at the distillery to taste the products that are made there, a distiller cannot sell a bottle of spirits to a customer to take home.

BEER: There is a bit more leeway for beer with brewers being able to offer tastings and sell beer to customers. The CA law was revised just this year to make it very clear that a brewer can only sell its own beer to customers, and not beer made by other brewers, unless it gets a retail license. As a matter of policy, the ABC will allow a beer manufacturer to also make an online sale of its beer to a consumer. An on-premises retailer like a restaurant or a bar can also sell beer to customers to take home, and by the same ABC policy can sell online.  Off-sale retailers like grocery stores can sell beer to consumers online.

WINE: As with other alcohol, wine can be sold DTC by off-sale retailers. An on-sale retailer can also sell wine online, under ABC policy allowing online sales by retailers. A winery can also sell wine DTC, both at the winery and online, including through wine clubs. The state also offers two opportunities for the online retail sale of wine without a traditional brick and mortar store. The first of these is with a 17/20 wholesale and retail combination, or a 9/17/20 import/wholesale/retail combination. In both cases, wine can be sold online to customers and indeed can only be sold by direct mail, telephone or the internet from a location which is not open to the public. The license combination is often located right at the warehouse, enabling the licensee to easily pick and pack and ship out customer orders. The 17/20 combination allows the holder to sell directly to retailers as well as consumers and, with the addition of the type 9, the licensee can bring in wine from out-of-state and get it all the way to a consumer without passing through any other licensee’s hands. The second option is more recent and consists of a type 85 license, which gives the licensee the ability to sell wine at retail without the added wholesale or import rights. The chief distinction between the 85 and the 17/20 combination is that the 17/20 licensees have a wholesale license so they are required to make sales to retailers in addition to consumers, whereas the type 85 licensee sells only to consumers.

OUT-OF-STATE SELLERS: If you are a seller of alcohol located out-of-state, only wine can be sold DTC to California consumers and only under certain circumstances. A licensed winery in another U.S. state can get a direct shipper’s permit to sell DTC. For a licensed retailer in another state, the laws are murkier. California has a “reciprocity” statute which only permits out-of-state retail sales from states which allow a California retailer to ship to that state’s consumers. Currently, only thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow such sales. However, the concept of “reciprocity” was criticized by the Supreme Court in its 2005 decision in Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460, with specific reference to this California law. The law itself has not been challenged and thus the limitation remains on the books.

If you are interested in learning more about direct shipping laws in California 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 © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Supplier-Funded Instant Rebates No Longer Permitted on Beer in California

August 7th, 2014 | Add a comment »

On July 18th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Section 25600.3 of the Business and Professions Code, which expressly prohibits beer manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers from offering, funding, sponsoring, or furnishing any type of coupon whereby a consumer gets an instant discount on beer, cider or perry, at the time of purchase. Prohibited coupons include instantly redeemable coupons (IRCs) of all kinds, whether paper, digital or electronic. The bill also prohibits retail licensees from accepting or possessing any such coupon funded by a beer wholesaler or manufacturer, although it does not prevent a retailer from offering its own coupons as set out below.

Per the bill sponsor, beer IRCs have been targets for fraud and have created liability issues for beer suppliers, as well as creating an imbalance in the beer marketplace among major breweries and the burgeoning craft beer market. The bill received major support from MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch.

Not affected by the law are mail-in rebates, retailer-sponsored coupons, instant coupons for distilled spirits and wine (provided the coupons do not also discount beer), and instant rebates offered by beer manufacturers at the production facility or other premises owned or operated by the manufacturer. This last exception keeps the door open for small brewers licensed with a Type 23 license to offer instant rebates at brew-pubs owned and operated by the brewery.

Suppliers and retailers should be careful with all beer, cider and perry coupons as they may be affected by the new prohibition. We have put together a chart below to show what coupons are caught by the law. You should check each license that is held by the sponsor to see if the law prevents the coupon.

California IRCs  by Alcohol and ABC License Type

            

 

 

Beer Manufacturer (CA or out-of-state)

Beer and Wine Wholesaler

Beer and Wine Importer

Winegrower (if wholly owned by a Beer Manufacturer)

Winegrower (not owned by Beer Manufacturer)

Retailer

Malt beverages (incl. beer)

No

No

No

No

N/A

Yes

Cider

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Perry

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Wine/spirits

N/A

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Rebate regulations vary from state to state. For more information on coupon laws for wine, beer, and distilled spirits, 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 ·

Wine Liberty for All (Adults) in Massachusetts

July 17th, 2014 | Add a comment »

Massachusetts wine consumers will soon have equal access to Napa Cabs, Oregon Pinot Noirs, and New York Rieslings, as the commonwealth finally joins the ranks of direct shipping states with the passage of House Bill 294. Effective January 1, 2015, the bill will allow the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to issue licenses allowing out-of-state and in-state wineries to ship a limited amount of wine, by common carrier, directly to Massachusetts residents.

Prior to the passage of HB 294, out of state wineries were effectively shut out by the Massachusetts direct shipping law, which purported to allow direct shipping, but included so many restrictions and limitations that it was unworkable. Despite a successful court challenge to the existing law, in which the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Massachusetts shipping law was discriminatory, the legislators have been unable until now to pass replacement legislation. In 2013, House Representative Theodore Speliotis introduced HB 294, and with the help of fellow lawmakers and a celebrity endorsement from New England Patriots quarterback-turned-Washington state vintner Drew Bledsoe, the measure was approved and has now been signed by the governor July 11th 2014. Under the new law, all U.S. wineries with a federal basic permit and home state winery license may obtain a license to ship up to 24 cases of wine per year to a Massachusetts resident 21 years of age or older. Like most direct shipper licenses, the Massachusetts license will also require the winery to submit a yearly report to the Commission and Department of Revenue detailing the total gallons of wine shipped, as well as require taxes be paid on all products shipped. The initial license fee will be $300.00 per winery, with a $150 annual renewal fee.

Common carriers delivering in the state are required to have a fleet permit and each vehicle transporting alcohol under the permit must have a certified copy of it in the vehicle, at a cost of $50 per certified copy.

The new law has drawn some criticism because it permits shipments only from U.S. wineries, effectively prohibiting direct shipment of imported wines to Massachusetts consumers. The Massachusetts law is not alone in this restriction; importers and retailers are excluded by the direct shipping laws of some other states, as well. But the law nonetheless represents another step forward in direct to consumer wine sales. Only eight states continue to have a complete ban on winery shipments direct to consumer. If you are interested in learning more about direct shipping law in Massachusetts 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 © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

How About a Bacon Flavored Beer?

July 9th, 2014 | Add a comment »

“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 | Add a comment »

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 ·