Friday, June 21, 2019

Last Chance to Comment on Proposed TTB Rule Changes

Next Wednesday, June 26, is the last day to comment on TTB's plan to "comprehensively amend its regulations governing the labeling and advertising of alcohol beverages in order to improve understanding of the regulatory requirements and to make compliance easier and less burdensome for industry members," which was first published seven months ago. (TTB Notice No. 176)

Today the Texas Whiskey Association (TXWA), a group of 15 Texas-based distilleries, released its comments. They did a good job. Rules drafting is hard work. If you are interested in this sort of thing, you should take a look at what they did. Jared Himstedt, who signed the letter as TXWA Founding President, is Master Distiller at Balcones. A list of the TXWA members is here.

I agree with most of their comments, and where I don't I can see their point. Mostly, I have a different perspective on it.

For the section "Statements of Age 5.74 (a) (3)," TTB proposes that where spirits are aged in more than one barrel, only time spent in the first barrel can be stated on the label. Similarly, for the section "Statements of Age 5.74 (e)," age statements of any kind would be prohibited on barrel-finished products.

In both cases, TXWA argues for more flexibility for its members. They want to be able to state the additional time as well as the original time. It's a good transparency argument, plus whiskey nerds love that sort of thing. The more truthful information a producer can provide, the better.

However, I disagree with TXWA and support TTB's original proposal. This rule regulates the age statement, which is required under some circumstances, optional in others. The age statement is a formal part of the label and meant to be presented in a standard form. For the sake of the ordinary consumer, label disclosures need to be simple and unambiguous.

Furthermore, the proposed rule regulates only the formal age statement, not every single word of label copy. Current TTB rules allow "general inconspicuous age, maturity or similar representations without the label bearing an age statement." That means producers may describe their process and provide all of that additional information in an "inconspicuous representation," i.e., back label copy, they just can't incorporate it into the formal age statement.

We went through this last year with Wild Turkey.

I also disagree with TXWA on the matter of "Whisky Class Designation 5.141 (b) (3)," which states "that spirits should be labeled with their most appropriate class type. If it meets the definition of a ‘Bourbon Whiskey’, it must be labeled as a Bourbon Whiskey and not as a specialty whiskey or a ‘Whiskey’."

This has come up before and it always strikes me as little more than an underhanded dig at Jack Daniel's. If a product qualifies as whiskey and the producer wants to call it just whiskey, but they arguably could call it bourbon whiskey, how is the consumer harmed by the producer choosing to not call it that?


Richard Turner said...

Only one brief comment springs to mind immediately...
Why does it matter much what the rules state, if the TTB is so unlikely to consistently enforce it's own rules anyway?
...Just a quick take on the whole idea of the TTB rules & their enforcement from a consumer, not a producer.

Harry in Wash DC said...

FWIW, much of my professional career as a FED GOVT lawyer consisted of drafting proposed regs, publishing them for comment, reading and organizing and summarizing the comments, and then redrafting the proposed regs to include the parts of the comments the agency staff concluded merited changes. Many more times than once, some comment from a citizen (to be distinguished from somebody inside the industry affected directly by the proposal) made a comment or suggestion that PERFECTLY addressed some of the issues the proposal was intended to address.

In other words, read the proposal, think about what it is intended to do, and, if you think you have something specific to say or a suggestion for a change, MAKE IT and then state WHY the change should be made.

Ruchard's comment above is illustrative - if you think that the proposal makes sense BUT that it is likely to go unenforced because TTB lacks resources to enforce it, STATE THAT. TTB can use your comment to bolster its defense of its budget requests.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I am missing something, but "Statements of Age 5.74 (e)," age statements of any kind would be prohibited on barrel-finished products" seems to have changed. In fact, I cannot find any reference at all to barrel-finished products. The documents listing corrections show nothing of the change since you posted.

Anonymous said...

None of it matters. The TTB has specifically told individual producers that they do not have the funding to enforce any label infractions, so they choose to ignore any and all verified complaints. anyone who believes otherwise is either a shill or not a DSP on the ground.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

So, because the TTB doesn't have the resources to currently enforce labelling regulations, we should pay no attention to what the regulations have to say? A DSP should simply ignore them, not pay any attention to the law or weigh-in on changes? Man, I'd hate to be involved with any DSP that takes that approach.

You do realize and administration (the current one, or one in the future) could fund the TTB and require them to start enforcing the labeling regs, right? Also, a lack of input could be seen as a reason to continue to ignore the regs, since nobody cares about them.

I think Harry has the EXACT right answer on how to handle this. Overwhelm the TTB with suggestions and concern. And at least he used a name, and didn't post completely anonymously.

Evan said...

My question is whether Chuck is filing comments. He certainly has informed opinions on important issues relevant to this rulemaking and it seems to me they should be brought to TTB's attention.

Anonymous said...

10:46 - No. What I am saying is that by posting rules that are not followed by a large % of the producers, it puts an unfair burden on the operations, price points and ultimate profitability on those who do follow all the rules. Beyond that it degrades the industry standards in the eyes of the consumer, as they are many times buying illegally labeled, inferior products at often inflated "craft & age" prices.