On November 26, 2018, TTB published a notice of proposed rulemaking entitled “Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages.” This proposal is a significant reorganization and amendment of the rules that govern spirits labeling. TTB’s goal with their modernization is to “simplify and clarify” the regulation to reduce the regulatory burden, increase compliance and reduce the number of rejected labels. In this notice TTB requested that all interested parties submit comments on the proposals before any of the changes take effect. The window for public comment closes on June 26, 2019 and ADI intends to submit a formal comment to TTB on behalf of our members.

ADI’s comment to TTB will be based on the opinions expressed from our members and informed by the results of Whiskey Systems’ survey of over 300 craft distilleries. ADI’s mission is to promote and defend the art and enterprise of craft distilling, therefore we will tailor our comments in such a way that supports a fair playing field and distiller’s ability to innovate. The following is an outline of the areas that ADI will address in its comment and we welcome more feedback from our members as we finalize our positions.

The community of craft distillers has made it very clear that TTBs proposal to limit barrels to cylindrical containers of about 50 gallons is strongly opposed. As such ADI intends to voice our opposition to this proposal because it stifles innovation, advantages distillers with more capital in the marketplace, and the proposal offers no indication for how the spirits currently maturing in the thousands upon thousands of barrels both larger and smaller than 53 gallons will be classified once the rule if finalized. We believe that the current lack of a definition for “oak container” or “oak barrel” has allowed distilleries and cooperages to innovate and offer a wider variety of products to their customers.

In the proposal TTB also intends to define distillation and to codify their long-standing policy to how to count claims of multiple distillations. TTB define distillation as “a single run through a pot still or one run through a single distillation column of a column (reflux) still.” However, it has been TTB’s policy to only allow claims of multiple distillations past those necessary to meet the products standard of identity. This means that an Irish style whiskey that is customarily distilled three times could only claim two distillations on its label or a vodka that takes three distillations to reach 190 could only say it was distilled once. This policy is counter to accepted industry usage and counter to the plain understanding of TTB’s own definition of distillation. Because this definition of multiple distillation claims would add confusion for consumers, require significant relabeling, and is highly dependent on the still used in the production process, ADI will voice its opposition to this new rule around multiple distillation claims and advocate for one more in line with accepted practice and TTBs definition of what constitutes a distillation run.

Since 1949, when the federal government created a standard of identity for vodka, it has been defined as a neutral spirit distilled “at or above 190° proof, and “to be without distinctive character, aroma, or taste.” However, in the last decade several distillers have in practice created a new style of vodka, distilled to 190° proof in such a way that it retains some character from its agricultural base. This has opened vodka to a whole new segment of consumers who were not “vodka drinkers.” If TTB chose to fully enforce this definition it would requires a significant number of new labels, limit consumer choice and recodify a vague standard. But, simplifying the definition solely to a measurable standard like distilled at or above 190° proof allows for continued innovation, consumer choice and eliminates a potential financial burden on existing spirits.

Lastly, one significant omission from TTB’s proposal is a definition for American Single Malt Whiskey (ASM). In 2016, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission formed and proposed a definition for American Single Malt that would be simple to codify and allow ASM to compete in an international market. They proposed that the standard define ASM as “made from 100% malted barley; distilled entirely at one distillery; mashed, distilled and matured in the United States of America; matured in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters; distilled to no more than 160° proof (80% alcohol by volume); and bottled at not less than 80° proof (40% alcohol by volume).” This definition has been adopted by at least 135 U.S. distilleries and by ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits as unique spirit category. Given its omission from the proposal ADI will request that TTB include the above definition for ASM in the standards of identity as a new type of whiskey.

Please send any thoughts regarding ADI’s public comment to Eric Zandona (eric@distilling.com).