In this industry one of the things I am known for is pointing out producers when they violate TTB federal labeling laws on spirits. I do so as a consumer advocate. Prior to 2007 there were about a dozen companies producing whiskey in the US. Per the American Craft Spirits association as of 2017 there are now 1589 craft distillers in the US. When a distiller wants to create a new label, they submit a COLA application for approval to the TTB. Under penalty of perjury, they swear that the label meets all US labeling laws. Now one might think that the TTB would know all these laws and only approve labels that met them, but that have proven time and time again that don’t. I however have studied our labeling laws extensively and know them inside out.
Almost all of the labeling mistakes I see are from these newer small craft producers. Often it is an honest mistake in that they were not aware of a particular portion of the law. I have pointed out mistakes and had many appreciate it and update their label accordingly. Others violate label law on purpose because to follow them would mean telling their potential customers more than they want to and potentially hurt their sales. I rarely see mistakes from the big producers because I suspect they have teams of lawyers that review these labels and know the laws. So that brings us to Diageo, the world’s largest spirit company.
One of Diageo’s brands is Crown Royal. Crown is introducing a new product in the US called Crown Royal Bourbon Mash Blended Canadian Whiskey. It’s imported from Canada. Bourbon is red hot these days so I can see why Crown Royal wants to jump on the Bourbon bandwagon. The problem is they broke the law in doing so. Bourbon is distinctive product of the US as declared by the US congress in 1964 and signed by President Lyndon B Johnson. NAFTA contains a section where Canada agreed to recognize Bourbon Whiskey as a distinctive product of the US. American law is found in 27 CFR 5.22 (b) (2) – ‘Whiskey distilled from bourbon mash produced in the United States’.
27 CFR 5.22 (l) (1) is the smoking gun. It states That the word “bourbon” shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States. This is exactly what Diageo did. They used Bourbon to describe a product that was produced in Canada.
Here is their COLA approval – CR Bourbon Mash Label In my state Texas, it is required to have state approval as well. Here is their Texas approval – CR Bourbon Mash TX approval PDF If you notice the Texas approval was approved Jan 04, 2018 and is based off the Federal COLA approval #17206001000359.
This label should have never been approved by the TTB. It should have never even been submitted by Diageo. And now it gets even more interesting. This label status is now ‘surrendered’, which means it is no longer valid – picture of this CR label surrendered
When the label was surrendered is unknown. I have searched the TTB database extensively and I have not found any replacement COLA approval. Yet, Diageo is continuing to sell this product. There is even a launch party for it tonight in Houston.
Diageo is the 900 lb gorilla in the room in the spirits business. Maybe they think they are too big for the law to apply to them. I for one will call them out on their shenanigans when appropriate.
Update – Diageo’s compliance officer name was on the original COLA label application, so I sent her an email asking about this. Screenshot of email here email to Diageo