New TTB Whiskey Labeling Guidelines

If you’ve been paying any attention in the last year, you’ve heard of all the hubbub about correctly labeling whiskey, and more specifically bourbon. A lot of this has had to do with where something is distilled versus where it is produced/bottled. We’re looking at you Templeton Rye. Something that has been somewhat more nebulous is the correct stating of age in whiskey. You’d think this is pretty straight forward, but there is a lot of creative wording out there. Presumably in an effort to combat this, the TTB has come out with new phrasing for its guidelines. Thanks to Chuck Cowdery for the heads up on his blog. I’ll put the new wording below it’s found in the FAQ section of the TTB site.

The most interesting thing I noticed is that any product labelled as ‘whisk(e)y’ must have an age statement if it is less than 4 years old. Down to the hour if applicable. Previously, I think this only applied to whiskies that have been labelled ‘straight’ that were less than 4 years old and any whiskey less than 2 years old. This seems to suggest that this now applies to any whiskey product less than 4 years old.

They also define the aging statement as referring to time in ‘new oak containers’ for any ‘straight’ product. I suppose this is to prevent counting any aging in a barrel finished process. I’m not aware of anyone putting straight whiskey into used barrels later in the aging process and counting that towards the age, but this seems logical to prevent this kind of nefarious behavior.

It also adds specific examples at the bottom of how to label blended whiskies. Not so applicable to us Bourbon Evangelists, but interesting none the less that they felt it necessary.

What do you guys think about this? Personally I’m for anything that gives me the opportunity to be more confident of what I’m actually drinking. Does anyone else wish that Bottled-in-Bond would make a come back?

New Wording of Whiskey Labeling  

Is an age statement required on a whisky label?
The TTB regulations at 27 CFR 5.40(a) require an age statement on the label of any whisky that has not been aged for at least four years. This requirement applies to any whisky produced by mixing or blending if the youngest whisky in the mixture or blend has been aged for less than four years. An age statement is optional for any whisky that is four years old or more, unless the label makes a representation as to age or maturity. See 27 CFR 5.40(e)(2) for rules applying to age, maturity, and similar representations.

What is the “age” of a whisky?
The TTB regulations at 27 CFR 5.11 define the term “age” to mean the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers. For bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and for straight whisky other than straight corn whisky, the “age” is the period during which the whisky has been stored in charred new oak containers.

Do the format rules for mandatory age statements also apply to optional age statements?
The regulations at 27 CFR 5.40(a)(5) provide that optional age statements must appear in the same form as required statements. See 27 CFR 5.40 and Chapter 8 of the Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM) for additional information about optional age statements.

What information must be included in an age statement?
The age of the whisky must be stated in hours, days, months, or years, as appropriate. The age may be understated, but the age may not be overstated. See 27 CFR 5.40(a)(4) for the requirements regarding disclosure of aging in reused barrels for certain products.

How should age be stated if the whisky consists of a mixture or blend of whiskies with different ages?
If the whisky contains no neutral spirits, the age must be stated either as the age of the youngest whisky, or as a statement that includes the age of each whisky in the mixture or blend, and the percentage of that whisky in the mixture or blend. If percentages are listed, they must be based on the percentage of the finished product, on a proof gallon basis, contributed by each listed whisky, and the percentages listed must add up to 100%. If the whisky contains neutral spirits, see 27 CFR 5.40(a)(2) for rules that apply to statements of age and percentage.

Can the age statement include minimum or maximum ages?
As noted above, age may be understated, but may not be overstated. A minimum age (such as “aged at least __ years”) is acceptable, but a maximum age (such as “aged for less than ___ years”) is not acceptable.

I am bottling a straight whisky that consists of one straight whisky that has been aged for 3 years and another straight whisky that has been aged for 2 years. The older whisky makes up 60% of the mixture, on a proof gallon basis, and the younger whisky makes up the remaining 40%. Can I simply label the product as having been “Aged for less than 4 years”?
No. The statement “aged for less than 4 years” does not satisfy the requirements of 27 CFR 5.40 for an age statement, and it creates a misleading impression as to the age of the product. You may choose to label the product with an age statement that reflects the age of the youngest whisky (“Aged 2 years”) or you can set out the percentage of each whisky, with its age (60% straight whisky aged 3 years; 40% straight whisky aged 2 years”).

What are examples of acceptable formats for age statements?
The following formats are acceptable:
_____ years old.
____ months old.
Aged _____ years.
Aged at least ____ years.
Aged a minimum of ____ months.
Over ____ years old.
Aged not less than ____ years.
___% whisky aged __ years; __% whisky aged ___ years.

What are examples of age statements that are not acceptable?
TTB will not approve labels with the following age statements, because they list a maximum age instead of a minimum age, and thus may mislead consumers as to the age of the product:
Aged less than ____ years.
Under ____ years old.
Aged not more than ____ years.

One Comment Add yours

  1. It’s nice to see such attention and detail to age, particularly in re bourbon,which you correctly note must be “aged” in “charred new oak”. It is important however to realize that the regulations are of a whole and all must be met. It is not accidental then that the Standards of Identity for bourbon (§5.22) is congruent with the aging statements you cite; specifically to be “bourbon” the spirit “…must be STORED at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers”.

    This is critical. Do note that 5.22 does not distinguish “aging” from “finishing”, but comingles both these terms as “storage”. Thus a bourbon must only be stored in “charred new oak”, period, regardless of what you want to call it. If a bourbon moves from charred new oak, it had better be for bottling – further storage for finishing in say a used sherry and you can’t call it a bourbon. Having been stored for a time in “used oak”, you no longer have a bourbon, but at best might label the spirit correctly as a “whiskey made from bourbon mash”.

    Both Jim Murray and I feel quite strongly about this. Keep in mind that the regulations you cite are not really new, but a restatement of the regs. As Chuck notes it appears that by restating the regs, the agency is making clear that they may no longer tolerate the misrepresentations of many distillers. Just like misleading aging statements, it has become a common misrepresentation for distillers to incorrectly label a spirit as “bourbon”. Let’s hope the agency will enforce section 5.22 as well.

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