There’s been controversy in the bourbon world over the last few years in regards to labels. While new customers enter so do new brands. The problem is not all the brands follow the rules for labeling their whiskey. The organization in charge of these matters is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Labeling regulations isn’t a new problem. We’ve been talking about it on Bourbonr for a while. What’s new is the TTB opening up the conversation with consumers. In an article on Eater last week, Jake Emen got the conversation started. He included the eight major issues he’d like to see fixed. The following day a thread popped up in the Bourbon section of Reddit. Both are full of great points and worth the read. Now is the time for a change. The TTB appears motivated for a change and is listening to consumers. Here are the issues that I see as most important.
- Clearing labeling the distillery that made the whiskey.
- With more NDP’s popping up this is one of the biggest issues. We want to know who made the whiskey. It shouldn’t take a private detective to figure out where it was made.
- Adding the distillery could cause a problem with brands that claim they’ve signed an NDA. I have a feeling that’s more of a cop out than reality. In these cases, city and state would be required.
- Disclosure of flavoring.
- Flavoring isn’t an issue with bourbon. But, there are certain ryes and American Whiskey’s that use flavoring without disclosing it to the customer. I think it’s OK to keep the rule that allows <2% flavoring in whiskey, but that needs to be stated on the bottle. Brands that use finishing barrels wouldn’t be classified as flavoring.
- Define Small Batch and Single Barrel.
- Small batch should mean batched in less than “X” gallons (somewhere around 5,300 gallons). Not its current definition of 1 to infinity. Also, a single barrel is the whiskey from a single barrel. Not a “single barrels worth” or “single barrel profile”. Yes, there will be some flavor profile variations, but that’s what we want.
- Age statement on whiskey younger than four years.
- This is currently a rule. I added it here because it’s often ignored. An age statement from younger whiskey will be huge for consumers.
- Define “Craft Distillery”
- This is probably the hardest issue the TTB faces. Should “Craft” be limited to distilleries that produce under a certain number of barrels per year? Should it be based on the size of the still used to produce the whiskey? What about Jim Beams Signature Craft series? Would they automatically be forced to drop the word?
- I believe there should be a “Craft Distiller” category based on the number of barrels produced each year. This seems to work for the beer industry. The only problem is barrel size varies in distilleries.
- What would you add?
Why is this important? As bourbon and whiskey grow the regulations need to expand with it. The issues the TTB faced six years ago are much different than today’s problems. Craft distilleries are popping up across the countries. New brands are created weekly. In general, today’s consumer care a lot more about the information on the label than they did a decade ago. Today, we want to read about mash bills and distilleries. Not stories and family history. That is why label regulation is so important.
Here’s my plan. There are a little over 27,000 Bourbonr readers. I plan on putting together a list of changes and submit them to the TTB on behalf of all Bourbonr readers. Think of this as our “Bourbon Petition” and we need everyone to sign. The guys over at /r/bourbon are doing the same thing. The louder the bourbon voice is the more the TTB will listen. Please add your suggestions and commentary in comments.