Malt beverages--known colloquially as beer--are enjoyed in countries around the world, and America is no different. The U.S. is very strict about how producers can label and market their brews. Here's some help in trying to make sense of the ponderous and somewhat outdated laws regulating beer labeling.
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
Overseen by the United States Department of Treasury, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates the labeling of malt beverages, or beer. They are the judge and jury when it comes to approving beer labels.
The TTB requires that the following government-issued warning appear verbatim on all beer labels:
"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."
A few ingredients must be listed on every label, including FD&C Yellow No. 5, sulfites, if sulfur dioxide is detected at 10 ppm or more, and aspartame.
Major food allergens--milk, eggs, almonds, pecans, walnuts, wheat, peanuts or soybeans--may also be listed, along with ingredients that are derived from a major food allergen, except for highly refined oils, which won't trigger an allergy attack.
Food allergens aren't required to be listed, but if you choose to list one, you must list all major allergens in the beverage so people won't mistakenly interpret an allergen's absence on the label as an absence from the beverage. The label has to follow this wording exactly: "Contains: [Specific Major Allergen Food Source #1], [Specific Major Allergen Food Source #2]."
Classification and Product Naming
Alcoholic content must be included on the label and expressed in terms of "percent alcohol by volume." To be labeled "low alcohol" or "reduced alcohol," the alcoholic content must be below 2.5 percent by volume. To be labeled "non-alcoholic," the alcoholic content must be below 0.5 percent by volume. Additionally, the phrase "contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume" must be included. To be labeled "alcohol free," there must be no alcohol at all in the beverage.
The product label also must have a brand name. If the beer is not sold under a brand name, the name of the distributor must be on the label.
You also must state the generally accepted "class" or "type" of the malt beverage from one of the following: Malt beverage/cereal beverage/near beer; beer; lager; ale; stout; porter; or pilsner. If it doesn't fall into one of these categories, you must give it a unique name followed by an adequate description of the product.
Certain distinctive types of beers are named for their region of origin. If you brew a beer that tastes similar but is made outside the region, the BTT requires you to add either the prefix "American-" or the suffix "-type" to the name.
Name and Address
You must list your company as the name of the bottler and indicate the place it was bottled (or the main place of business). But you can't simply lease an office building in Vienna and put "Bottled by Smith Brewery, Vienna, Austria" in an attempt to peddle your New Jersey-made ale as some kind of fancy import.
If you outsourced the bottling to someone else, you don't have to say who bottled it, unless state law requires it. You would substitute "bottled by" with "distributed by" and add your company's information.
If you're the sole distributor of an imported beer, "Imported by [your company, your address]" must be on the label.
You must put the net contents, or liquid volume, either on the label or on the bottle itself.
The color of the font on the label has to contrast enough with the background color that the entire label can easily be read under normal conditions.
If the net contents are greater than half a pint, the characters must be between 2 mm and 4 mm tall. If the net contents are less than half a pint, the characters must be between 1 mm and 3 mm tall.
Excluding the brand name, all required information on the label must appear in English at least once. You can include this information in another language as well as long as it's in addition to a full English version.
Labels need to stay firmly attached to containers and be able to withstand water and other solvents.
On the container or other packaging (for example, the cardboard box surrounding a case of beer cans or the cardboard holder for a six-pack of beer bottles), you are aren't allowed to:
• Make false statements.
• Say anything bad about a competitor's product.
• Put obscene or tasteless writing, images or device (for example, pop-ups or microphones).
• Mislead consumers with manipulated information from tests, standards or other analytical data.
• Use a name that suggests your product is endorsed or supervised by a person or organization when it isn't. The exception to this is if you've sold the product under that name for five years or more without incident.
• Make misleading guarantees. You can offer money-back guarantees.
• Use a name that suggests your product is made from distilled spirits. However, existing distilled spirits brands can co-brand themselves with beers, as long as it's clear from the label that "Johnny Walker Summer Ale" is a malt beverage and not a distilled spirit. This goes for cocktails as well. (You can sell a mudslide-flavored beer, but it must be clear that there is no vodka in the beverage.)
• Use a design or image that simulates a government stamp, meaning no presidential seals, armed services insignias, fire or police emblems, currency graphics or state flags.
• Claim or imply the health benefits of your product.
• Direct consumers to a third-party for information about the health benefits of your product or ingredients therein.
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