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Distilled Spirits Labels

  • Designing a Distilled Spirits Label
  • Applying for a Distilled Spirits COLA
  • Pre-COLA Evaluations for Distilled Spirits

Each distilled-spirits container must be labeled with a government-approved label before it can be sold. The TTB is the government agency responsible for reviewing and approving alcohol beverage labels. In most cases, you must obtain a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) from the TTB before putting the product on the market. You can usually file a COLA application as soon as you receive a DSP operating permit. You must submit a sample label with that application. In some cases, you must submit your product formula for TTB evaluation before filing a COLA application.

The following list is not comprehensive, but includes some of the most common distilled-spirits label requirements. Depending on the type of spirits, location of bottling, and other factors, the required label information may differ from what’s included below.

To start, each distilled-spirits bottle must have at least one main label called the brand label. No other labels are required, but they are permitted. Commonly, bottles include a brand label and a back label. However, they may also include neck and side labels. As discussed below, certain information must be stated on the brand label. Other information must be stated on either the brand label or back label.

A brand name is the name used to identify and market distilled spirits. A brand name cannot mislead a consumer about the age, identity, origin, or other characteristics of a distilled spirit. The brand name must be included on the brand label.

Exmaples: Smirnoff; Jack Daniels

Class and type designations identify the product in the bottle. Federal regulations describe the ingredients and processes used to produce a product of a given class or type. Class and type must be stated on the brand label. For some distilled spirits, the label must include class and type. For others, such as vodka, the label only needs to state the product type. The TTB maintains a list of distilled-spirit classes and types on its website.

Example: Vodka is in the neutral-sprits class because, like all spirits identified as “neutral spirits,” it is a spirit distilled at or about 95% alcohol by volume and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume. The term “vodka” identifies the type of product. The type definition of vodka is that it must be neutral-spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.

The alcohol content of distilled spirits must be stated on the brand label as a percent of alcohol by volume.

Example: 40% ALC/VOL

The label may, but is not required to, include a statement of alcohol content in degrees of proof. However, if included, the degrees-of-proof statement must appear in direct conjunction with the statement expressed in percent alcohol by volume. Additionally, the degrees-of-proof statement must be placed in parentheses, brackets, or distinguished from the mandatory alcohol-by- volume statement in some way.

Example: 40% ALC/VOL (80 PROOF)

Each bottle must contain a health statement that is separated from other information on the bottle either through the use of space or on a separate label. The health statement may be on the brand label, back label, or on a separate front, side, or back label. The statement must state as follows: “GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.” The words “GOVERNMENT WARNING” must appear in all capital letters and in bold type. The remainder of the statement may not be in bold type. The statement must appear as a continuous paragraph.

Example: Brewed and Bottled by MWS Rose Brewing Co., Boise, Idaho

The brand or back label must include the phrase “bottled by,” “distilled by,” or other similar phrasing immediately followed by the name of the bottler or distiller and the place where the distilled spirits were bottled.

Example: Distilled by MWS Rose Distilling, Boise, Idaho.

the net contents of a distilled spirits container must be stated on the brand or back label in metric units of measure.

Example: 750 ML

The labels of some distilled spirits, such as vodka or gin, must include a commodity statement disclosing the commodity from which the spirit was distilled.

Example: Distilled from grain.

Nearly all distilled spirits sold in the United States must be labeled with a government-approved label. To obtain government approval, you must submit an application for a certificate of label approval (“COLA”) to the TTB . You cannot submit the application until you receive a DSP Permit allowing you to manufacture or sell your product. You must also prepare a sample label to submit with the application. The easiest and most efficient way to submit a COLA application is to create an account with COLAs Online which you can access through the TTB website.

To file a distilled spirits COLA application, you must first establish that the person completing the application has the authority to interact with the TTB on your behalf. If the person completing the application was not listed as someone with such authority on your permit application, you must submit additional documentation to the TTB authorizing the person to complete the application. If the person filing the COLA application was listed as having such authority, skip to Section 4 of this article.

The TTB recognizes two types of signing authority.

The first is authority a person has because they are a member of an LLC or officer of a corporation. (Go here" for more on selecting the appropriate kind of business entity.) If the person completing the COLA application is a member of your LLC or officer of your corporation, but was not listed as having signing authority when you filed your alcohol permit application, someone else who already has TTB-recognized authority to act on your company’s behalf must execute and file a TTB form called a Signing Authority giving the person the authority to act on your behalf. The TTB Signing Authority form is available on the TTB’s website. This type of form is also appropriate if you wish to have a company employee interact with the TTB.

The second type of singing authority is a Power of Attorney. The Power of Attorney form is the appropriate form to file if the person completing the application is acting on your behalf in a representative capacity, such as the company’s attorney or accountant. The form is also available on the TTB’s website. Again, someone at the company who the TTB has already recognized as having authority to act on the company’s behalf must sign the Power of Attorney.

Once you’ve completed the appropriate form authorizing someone to act on the company’s behalf, you must amend your DSP Permit to include the new authority. The easiest way to amend your application is to log into your TTB Permits Online Account and select the “Create Amendment” option next to your approved application record. You cannot register to use COLAs Online on the company’s behalf until the TTB approves the amendment.

Once you have completed steps 1-3 above, or determined you can skip them, you may register on COLAs Online to file the COLA application. Registration is fairly straightforward. You are required to provide information such as your contact information, permit number, and date of permit issuance. Once you’ve completed each of the required steps, you can submit the registration request. The TTB may take up to 20 days to verify your authorization, but generally it takes much less time.

Once the TTB verifies your authority to do so, you can move forward with filing your COLA application. To complete the application, you must upload an image of your label. The label must be a JPG or TIFF file and cannot exceed 750 KB in size. Along with a copy of your label, you will need to provide the TTB with the following information about each label:

  • your DBA/Trade Name (if any);
  • your brand name;
  • your product’s fanciful name (if any); and
  • the size of the actual printed label.

Once you’ve submitted your application, a TTB officer will usually respond within two weeks. The TTB provides up-to- date processing information for label application on its website.

The tricky part of filing a COLA application is making sure that the label meets all federal regulations. This requires a careful review of the regulations regarding labeling and may also require you to allow the TTB to analyze a sample of your product.

Distilled spirits containers must be labeled with government-approved labels before they can be sold. In some cases, before the TTB will approve a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) application, it will require applicants to submit information about their product and may require also require a product sample for laboratory testing. The TTB refers to these submissions as pre-cola product evaluations.

What is the purpose of the pre-cola evaluation?

The purpose of the pre-cola evaluation is to ensure that your product doesn’t contain prohibited ingredients or too much of an ingredient that can only be used in limited amounts.

Formula Evaluations.

Domestically produced alcohol products are most likely to be subject to a type of pre-cola product evaluation referred to as formula evaluations. The TTB website lists the wine, malted beverage, and distilled spirits that require formula evaluations before a COLA application can be submitted.

For distilled spirits, the TTB most commonly requires a formula evaluation when flavoring or coloring materials are added to particular types or classes of spirits. For example, the TTB requires formula evaluations for flavored whiskey, flavored gin, flavored vodka, and flavored rum.

Minimum Formula Submission Requirements.

You can submit formulas through the TTB’s electronic system, Formulas Online. At a minimum, you will need to provide the TTB with the following information:

  • The agricultural source of the alcohol (for example, whiskey may be made from agricultural sources such as corn, rye, or wheat);
  • The percentage of alcohol by volume/proof at distillation;
  • The identification and source of any flavoring material used in the product;
  • The sequence of steps employed in producing the product, including a specific description of when flavoring material is added; and
  • The total volume and alcohol content of the finished product.

Other Documents You May Have to Submit.

A flavored ingredient data sheet (“FID”) is a spreadsheet that includes information about ingredients used in compound flavors. A compound flavor is a flavor consisting of multiple ingredients that are combined to produce a particular taste. If you use a compound flavor purchased from a flavor manufacturer in your product, you will need to submit a FID with your formula. The flavor manufacturer should be able to provide you with a FID when you purchase the flavors.

A limited ingredient calculation worksheet is a tool used to calculate the total amount of limited-use ingredients in your product. The limited ingredient calculation worksheet should only be used for products containing a compound flavor. Most of the time, you’ll be able to use the information provided in your FIDs to complete the limited ingredient calculation worksheet. You can obtain a limited ingredient calculation worksheet on the TTB website.

 

An ingredient specification sheet lists the contents of an ingredient used to complete your product. When submitting your formula, you should include a specification sheet for each ingredient that is made from more than one component (with the exception of compound flavors for which you should submit a flavored ingredient data sheet). For example, if your product is made from a juice made of sugar, water, and lemon, you will likely need to submit a specification sheet listing those components. You should be able to obtain the ingredient specification sheet from the ingredient manufacturer.

Learn More

For more information on labeling regulations and approvals, see our resource pages:

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