Thursday, January 22, 2015

There Is More New in the TTB Labeling Guidelines than Previously Thought

The labeling FAQ discussed here on Monday contains nothing new concerning the rules as written, but it does represent major changes in how TTB has been enforcing those rules. Several producers have told me that TTB advised them that only straight whiskey needed an age statement if less than four years old, and many products have been mislabeled as a result of that advice.

Here is the easiest way to understand the rule. If the label says 'whiskey' on it, and the product contains no neutral spirit (i.e., vodka, as in Seagram's 7 and similar products), and it is less than four years old, it needs an accurate and specific age statement, which is the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.

That's pretty much it. No exceptions. An age statement is required if the product meets all three of the following.
  • 'Whiskey' on label.
  • No vodka in the product.
  • A whiskey in the product that is less than four years old.
TTB will not require producers to recall mislabeled product, but it is in the producer's best interest to correct all labels as soon as possible.

TTB has, of course, not acknowledged that it has regularly mis-applied its own rules. Let's just hope they get it right going forward.


Ken said...

How will this impact distillers like Tuthilltown that use 5 gallon barrels? Do you think we will see "Aged 6 months in tiny barrels so we think it tastes more like 6 years," or might they increase the size of their barrels to get some years in the aging process?

Alex said...

My guess would be that the small print age statement somewhere on the label would not discourage most of the usual buyers. The marketing language elsewhere on the label could continue to explain the product, with some of the same dubious merits and misleading stories that some craft distillers use. I assume these would continue to appeal to some of the same buyers it appeals to now.

Anonymous said...

Great info Chuck. What if they add sherry to the whiskey? It's not a neutral grain spirit. Is an age statement required?

Chuck Cowdery said...

If the answer to all three questions is yes, then yes.

Anonymous said...

A) don't confuse age with quality. In many cases "literally" age is little more than the inevitable effect of variable inventory control .

B) flavored whiskey doesn't require an age statement. I don't know for sure about whiskey flavored whiskey, but it probably would :)

Chuck Cowdery said...

Excellent point. Flavored whiskey can't have an age statement, nor can whiskey liqueurs.

Anonymous said...

Wow, seems like just about every "craft" whiskey out there is in violation of the new standards. It will be interesting to see how having to put "Aged 6 Months" on many of these whiskey bottles will effect sales.

Anonymous said...

Does the new rule apply if the product is labeled "whisky" instead of "whiskey"?

Chuck Cowdery said...

No. Whiskey is whiskey, regardless of the way it's spelled.