Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Spirits Labels are Seriously in Need of Change

     The talk has been going on for years on this subject, but little has been done.  The results has been a myriad of lawsuits over "claims of homemade craft and a load of infringement by other brands because not enough effort has been made by governmental agencies before approval.  The other area of concern is the content of the spirits.  Not only what has been added, but the source of the spirit itself.  "The spirits industry has evolved, but directives which govern how liquor is labeled have remained static."

      "I wouldn't say it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it is once in a very long period," says Paul Hletko, president of the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), and founder and distiller of FEW Spirits, of the TTB's forthcoming open commenting period. The golden opportunity here is to, "really work with the TTB to help modernize, and work with a lot of labeling regulations so that they really represent the business as it is, and not as it was."   According to Matt Hofmann, co-founder and master distiller of Westland Distillery, and an ACSA board of directors member, the TTB has been planning this commenting period for six years. He adds, "For us, this is pretty critical, and we don't know when the next time is going to happen."

 Major Issues to Tackle

 A "Distilled By" Requirement
Issue: Who's actually distilling the whiskey or spirits which goes into that bottle? Does anybody know?

 Figuring Out This Whole "Craft" Thing Issue: "Craft" is one hell of a confusing word.  What does "craft" mean? What is a "craft" distillery? What is a "craft" spirit? Who knows. 

 "Small Batch," "Handmade," "Handcrafted"  Issue: These words, and similar ones, are thrown around haphazardly, and are essentially meaningless.  Moving beyond craft, there are plenty of other words and phrases which bear no meaning, but may be used in an attempt to falsely convey quality level to a consumer.

Label Approval Speed & Process Issue: There's a massive backlog of labels, slowing down the approval process, keeping TTB employees tied up from handling other matters, and potentially allowing more rogue labels to squeak through.

Compliance Issue: If producers take the rules were meant to be broken approach and nothing comes of it, what's the point?

     These are only a few of the issues, but the most important ones to the rum category.  I hope that things can get done this time.  The other most important thing is that there is a means of enforcement this time and some real penalties for breaking the rules.  Lets hope they get it right this time, because here in the United States, liquor laws take decades to get any changes.