Monday, January 19, 2015
TTB Issues New Guidelines for Age Statements on Whiskey Labels
There is nothing truly new about the labeling guidelines published on December 29th by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). (On the FAQ page, scroll down to S11.) Those have always been the rules. This is, however, the TTB's way of putting the industry on notice that its lax enforcement of these provisions is in the past. It remains to be seen if their bite matches their bark.
You may have read about the problem here back in September. The most egregious offense is the "Aged less than four years" convention, which clearly violates the rules, but which TTB was approving left and right. Now it says that form will not be allowed because it, "may mislead consumers as to the age of the product."
As stated in the new guidelines, "The TTB regulations at 27 CFR 5.40(a) require an age statement on the label of any whisky that has not been aged for at least four years. This requirement applies to any whisky produced by mixing or blending if the youngest whisky in the mixture or blend has been aged for less than four years. An age statement is optional for any whisky that is four years old or more."
In law school, my struggle with legal writing was aided by this advice. "In legal writing, unlike most other forms, it pays to state the obvious." The new labeling guidelines are in that spirit. For example, they define 'age' as "the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers. For bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and for straight whisky other than straight corn whisky, the 'age' is the period during which the whisky has been stored in charred new oak containers." (Emphasis mine.)
In that same spirit, it might have been useful to point out that these rules apply to all whiskeys, and not just straights as many seem to believe.
If a spirit has been aged for a very brief period simply to qualify it as a whiskey, that period "must be stated in hours, days, months, or years, as appropriate." Age may be understated but never overstated.
One question is stated in the form of an example which I think someone sent to me a few months ago. I hope I answered correctly. Here it is: "I am bottling a straight whisky that consists of one straight whisky that has been aged for 3 years and another straight whisky that has been aged for 2 years. The older whisky makes up 60% of the mixture, on a proof gallon basis, and the younger whisky makes up the remaining 40%. Can I simply label the product as having been 'Aged for less than 4 years'?"
The answer is, of course, no but with this additional guidance: "You may choose to label the product with an age statement that reflects the age of the youngest whisky ('Aged 2 years') or you can set out the percentage of each whisky, with its age ('60% straight whisky aged 3 years; 40% straight whisky aged 2 years')."