TTB Update CFR’s on Spirits

The TTB proposed several new rules and solicited input under a proposal titled “Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages” last year.  Today they published their response along with which code change is occurring and its effective date of May 4, 2020. Here is my summary on how it affects spirits:

-All spirits other than neutral spirits, which is vodka, can now have age statements so long as once they are dumped from the barrel no altercations are made.  Yes Gin can now officially be aged. In addition they removed the line about Gin having to be aged in paraffin lined barrels. Whiskey Specialties class type 641 products should now be allowed to carry an age statement.  

-One proposal was to define the size of an oak barrel used for aging.  This was the most commented on item and the comments overwhelmingly opposed this proposal.  The TTB listened and the current code, which does not specify a particular size, will remain in place.

-Another proposal would have limited age statements to only time spent in the first barrel.  This was not implemented. The TTB agrees all time spent in barrels count towards the age statement.  However no changes were made to 27 CFR 5.22 which states age for bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and straight whiskies other than straight corn whisky, means the period the whisky has been stored in charred new oak containers.  This also does not affect the current requirement in certain whiskies to disclose if it was aged in used cooperage.

-Agave Spirits is now a new Class with 2 defined types listed under it, Tequila & Mezcal.  US producers making Agave spirits in this Class will now be able to do so without submitting a formula

-Brand labels on spirits. Before the brand name with class and type were required to appear together on a label.  Now that information just needs to be able to be viewed all at once.

-If whisky is aged in more than one barrel, the label may optionally indicate what types of barrels were used.

-If spirits are labeled with a term describing how many times it has been distilled it must be a truthful statement.  Distillation means a single run either through a pot or a column still. Many Vodka distillers in the past claimed something like 50 times distilled, but they were counting each plate in the column as a distillation. 

-Laws on personalized labels were relaxed.  Producers can now obtain a COLA approval for a personalized label and once approved then make changes to this personalization without a new label approval being required.

-In advertising, you can now display your phone number, website or email rather than your city/state.

-Proof in bottles will now have a wider variance; plus or minus 0.3 percentage points.

-Regarding selecting a class type, the TTB wants distillers to have the option of using the general class type ‘whisky” or the designated type that applies.  This has been the TTB policy although it goes directly against 27 CFR 5.35 (a) which states the class and type of distilled spirits shall be stated in conformity with §5.22 if defined therein; where 5.22 defines the main class types.  You would think they would revise 5.35, but there was no mention of that.

-The use of the term Straight shall become optional for a producer. My personal note – lf you make a whiskey that meets the qualifications to be labeled Straight, please label it as such!

-Vodka was described in the code as without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.  That has been stricken from the code. It’s now defined as neutral spirits which may be treated with up to two grams per liter of sugar and up to one gram per liter of citric acid.

If you wish to read the published document – https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/04/02/2020-05939/modernization-of-the-labeling-and-advertising-regulations-for-wine-distilled-spirits-and-malt

Label says Bourbon but it’s not?

One of the things that make Bourbon unique is that nothing can be added post distillation other than water.  This is true regardless if it’s labeled Bourbon or Straight Bourbon. Other American whiskey types such as Rye, if it’s not labeled Straight, can have up to 2.5% HCFBM, which stands for Harmless Coloring Flavoring Blending Materials.  This could include caramel coloring or lab created flavoring. Which is why I often comment with the phrase ‘If it’s not Straight, you must abate’.

I was asked today about a product that said, ‘Straight Bourbon with Dark Cherry and Bourbon Vanilla Beans’.  They wondered since Bourbon can have nothing added but water, how this product could be labeled Bourbon? The same question is often posed to me about Bourbons that are finished in a secondary barrel such as port.  Obviously, a port barrel will add both coloring & flavoring. Also, Bourbon is only allowed to be aged in new charred oak containers, in which a used port barrel clearly does not meet this qualification.The answer is found in Ch. 7 of the TTB BAM.


The TTB allows a producer to state Bourbon, or Straight Bourbon, on the label of these products as long as it is followed with the statement of what was done to it that made it no longer Bourbon.  This is required to be on the front label. The example given by the TTB is the addition of Yellow #5, but this same concept applies to the example above of added cherries and vanilla as well as for whiskies finished in secondary barrels.

The TTB makes it very clear that these additions change the class type if the original class type prohibited any additives.  These whiskies become class type 641 – Whiskey Specialties. Bourbon is class type 141 and Straight Bourbon is class type 101.  You can look up the COLA label approval for these products and see that they are class type 641. Example:

The label on this product says Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels.  Is it Bourbon? No, it’s a Whiskey Specialties.

I’m also frequently asked about whiskies that have some type of staves or spires added to them, such as Maker’s Mark 46.  These additional staves fall under added HCFBM. They are specifically addressed by CFR 27 5.39 (c) which states “Treatment with wood. The words “colored and flavored with wood ___ (insert chips, slabs, etc., as appropriate)” shall be stated as a part of the class and type designation for whisky, in whole or in part, with wood through percolation, or otherwise, during distillation or storage, other than through contact with the oak container.”  So are these bourbon? No, they are Whiskey Specialities.

Many consumers do like these products and this post is not a commentary on the quality of any of these whiskies.  It’s an explanation of why these products are class type whiskey specialties. Bourbon does have special protection in the USA.  The well documented history of whiskey in America shows that rectifiers cut and added all sorts of materials to stretch whiskey or try to make inexpensive whiskey taste better with short cuts.  In some ways I see these class type 641 whiskies as going against the hard fought battle that earned Bourbon it’s place and protection in the USA and around the world. By having the words Bourbon followed by an explanation on the bottle causes consumer confusion.  The 641 class type is a catch all for whiskies that don’t fit neatly into any other type. My hope is that the TTB at some point defines some improved class types for these whiskies. I would also like to see age statements allowed. I would suggest calling these products Finished Whiskey on the front label & allowing the producer to then state the type of whiskey used along with whatever process on the back label.

Is KY Owl Confiscated the copycat of the ‘white van speaker scam’?

Have you ever heard of the ‘white van speaker scam’? If not wiki link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_van_speaker_scam. The gist is a con artist driving a white van makes you believe they have some high-end speakers left over from some job and must move fast. They are willing to move well below retail; often 80% below ‘retail price’ but you must act NOW. The reality is they are selling super cheap imported from China crap speakers. They are still out there but now have moved to flat screen TV’s; I was approached just last year.

In my opinion, KY Owl Confiscated is the whiskey version of the ‘white van speaker scam’. Its bulk sourced non-age stated KY straight bourbon whiskey for $129. Every single major KY bourbon distillery sells the same for $25 or less. Since KY Owl has no distillery they bought this from one of those other major KY distilleries. They are pitching high-end bourbon but delivering something pretty basic. Did I mention it has no age statement?

The white van scam generally starts in parking lot with the con artist approaching you saying ‘you look like a cool dude’. And since we all want to be cool, this relaxes your guard against being scammed. KY Owl does about the same; they immediately tell you they are ‘The Wise Man’s Bourbon’.

I thought the KY Owl Rye was overpriced but at least it carried an age statement. Perhaps one could justify the price if this was a very limited release, but it’s a national release with wide distribution. It carries no added secondary value.

I can’t stop you from buying $25 whiskey for $129; it’s your money. However, I can at least say I warned you and I will laugh at all the fools who do buy it.