Saturday, February 21, 2015

No Additives in Bourbon, No Way, No How

WARNING: This entire post is about geeky labeling rules stuff.

The picture above came to me from Germany. It is the back label of a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon. In English, the phrase indicated means "Contains Caramel." I posted it elsewhere and a lively discussion ensued. Another correspondent in Germany theorized that, because Diageo sells so many scotches, and they contain caramel (which must be disclosed in Germany), the person in charge of their German label compliance must have assumed bourbon contains caramel too. The statement no longer appears on Bulleit Bourbon labels in Germany, so his theory seems sound.

What does Diageo say about it? I asked but they never answered.

The discussion caused some people to refer back to a post here in September, where we discovered that flavoring is permitted in American whiskey in some very limited circumstances. We also noted a seeming conflict between the rules themselves and the TTB's Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM).

The BAM is a tool created by TTB for the convenience of producers. It is easier to use than the rules but is subordinate to them. If they conflict, the rules rule.

In the comments to that September post, we received some very good input from some very knowledgable people and also, offline, a clarification from TTB itself, which we published as a comment in the same thread.

It's there, in the comments, and has been since September, but in light of yesterday's discussion I now realize it didn't get enough play at the time, so here it is again. This is TTB's statement:

"Bourbon whisky can't have coloring, flavoring, or blending materials because 27 CFR 5.23(a)(2) allows the use of such materials up to 2 ½ percent only if  'customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage.' TTB’s interpretation of this is that Bourbon whisky does not customarily include such usage (straight or otherwise).

"The formulation office would not see a formula for Bourbon whiskey as it is not required. The BAM states that harmless coloring, flavoring and blending material (HCFBM) is not allowed to be added to Bourbon whiskey. Caramel color would fit within HCFBM. (I did check the table in the BAM, and it clearly indicates that no HCFBM may be added to Bourbon whisky or Straight Bourbon whisky.)

"So, technically, the BAM is not contradictory to the regulation at 27 CFR 5.23(a)(2) … nor to the standard of identity for the class of whisky and several types in the regulations at 27 CFR 5.22(b). The answer to the question is that you may not add caramel or caramel coloring or flavoring to Bourbon."

This statement from TTB confirms that bourbon may not contain any additives under any circumstances. Through this exercise we learned that rye whiskey (but not straight rye whiskey) may. Rye whiskey may contain 'harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials up to 2 ½ percent,' because for that product said additives are 'customarily employed.' This is why Templeton Rye is not labeled as straight rye, according to its makers. It contains some of the permitted additives.

It is unknown at this time whether or not this dispensation exists for any other named types, such as wheat whiskey. Now at least you know that if your rye whiskey isn't labeled 'straight,' it might contain some flavoring or coloring.

Some might ask how this affects so-called flavored whiskeys such as Red Stag by Jim Beam. Short answer is, it doesn't. That's a different issue, discussed at length here.

TTB, just in case you don't know, is the federal regulator of all beverage alcohol products; beer, wine, and distilled spirits. It is part of the Treasury Department. The initials stand for 'Tax and Trade Bureau.' Technically, TTB's rules only apply to products sold in the U.S., but they do apply in Germany and many other countries through treaty agreements.


Anonymous said...

Above is the BAM which is the doc that the TTB agent advised me is the standard used by their personnel when making operational decisions. This being the exchange I originally had with the TTB referenced herein about the the use of HCFBM in Bourbon, and straight Burbon. To reiterate for sale in the US only, we may not add anything to bourbon, or straight bourbon. Further we may not add anything to any other straight whiskey. We can however add HCFBM to non straight whiskey without altering the class.
There are also regulations about what can be removed after distillation through filtration, as I referenced in an earlier blog comment, but they are basically limited to a 15% extraction.

Note that the BAM is to the TTb CFR's, much like the AIM ( airmans information manual) is to the FAR's (federal aviation regulations). They are in both cases, governments sanctioned publications that cover the laws and subsequent practical operational parameters thereto. . As with the FAR's when in doubt, you must comply with "both" publications, not the one of your choice.

Onto the issue of what can be put in products sold outside of the U.S. That is entirely up to the laws of the importing country, and in many cases said regulations are completely different than for like products sold in the US. Typically Canada requires that products sold there conform to US standards of identity and labeling, however I believe that for example it is legal to sell bourbon in Italy, that has not been aged in new charred oak.

For people outside of the U.S., you should check your local laws pertaining to what is required and allowed.


Ryan said...

Chuck, I didn't know if you ever looked to see why Red Stag COLA 13263001000255 is classified as a straight bourbon whisky.

Chuck Cowdery said...

COLAs are often wrong, but the product is labeled correctly. That's what matters.

Anonymous said...

A STRAIGHT Bourbon Whiskey MAY NOT contain HFCBM BUT a "blended" bourbon may!! Do not for a second assume that it does not contain Caramel Color at less than 2.5% abv as it would be difficult to ascertain based on a label the difference between a Blended Bourbon and a Straight Bourbon.

Anonymous said...

Also the TTB Classification Code they list on COLA is for informational purposes only and has nothing to do with the regulations

Chuck Cowdery said...

I don't worry too much about 'blended' anything because most straight whiskey consumers know to avoid anything American that has the word 'blend' or 'blended' on the label. 'Blended Bourbon' is a mixture of at least 51 percent bourbon, the rest being GNS in most cases. There isn't a lot of blended bourbon sold and most people know it's junk, so it's not a big issue.

Unknown said...

"Straight Bourbon" and "Blended Bourbon" are two completely different types of spirit. A mixture of several straight bourbons can still be a straight bourbon, if they're distilled in the same state.
A bourbon that does not bare the "Straight" designation is still an unblended bourbon.