No Permission for Omission Under TTB Issued Gluten-Free Labeling Guidelines

After reviewing the use of the term “gluten-free” in the labeling of alcoholic beverages, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced Tuesday that it would continue to consider the claim “misleading” if used to describe products made from gluten containing grains.

Those products can, however, be labeled as “processed,” “treated,” or “crafted to remove gluten,” if the claim is made “with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten,” the TTB announced.

Its findings are consistent with regulations set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August, which also ruled that alcoholic beverages made from ingredients that do not contain any gluten – such as wines fermented from fruit and spirits distilled from non-grain materials – may continue to be labeled as gluten-free.

Tuesday’s TTB ruling means “business as usual” for Craft Brew Alliance (CBA), the Portland, Ore.-based maker of Omission Beer. CBA brews Omission with traditionally malted ingredients and then uses a product called Brewers Clarex to reduce the amount of gluten proteins found in the finished product.

“The Feb. 11 TTB announcement regarding gluten-free labeling does not require changes in the way Omission Beer is labeled, or any other aspect of the production and sale of our beers,” said Lorin Gelfand, the brand’s marketing manager. “We want the many thousands of Omission Beer drinkers in the U.S. to know that we will continue business as usual.”

Within the state, Oregon’s regulatory framework allows it to use the “gluten-free” claim, which it can use internationally as well. But CBA can’t legally slap the claim on Omission Beer packages shipped outside of Oregon in the U.S.

Gelfand added that CBA “looks forward to continuing to work with the TTB to ensure that our products are labeled according to their guidelines.”

The company had previously been working with a group of scientists from around the world to produce a study that validated a testing method for gluten-removed products. Last May, the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACCI) validated CBA’s study, and in November, the non-profit Celiac Spruce Association awarded Omission its Recognition Seal, after the beers met the organization’s “stringent requirements” and “tested well below the FDA standard for gluten-free of 20 [parts per million].”

But that hasn’t been enough to convince the TTB or the FDA that CBA’s gluten-removed products are in fact “gluten-free.”

CBA isn’t the only beer company using a gluten-reducing enzyme in its offerings, either.

Duck Foot Brewing Co., which competed in Brewbound’s Startup Brewery Challenge last December, also brews with malted barley and uses a similar product from White Labs called Clarity Ferm.

During his pitch at the Brewbound Session, Duck Foot founder Matt Delvecchio said he wouldn’t release a beer that surpassed the 20-ppm threshold.

Duck Foot is also eschewing the labelling rules by simply leaving the information off the packaging. Interested drinkers can go to their website and find out that the brews are gluten-reduced — below 20-ppm — but a consumer that wasn’t actively seeking the brand for that reason would be none the wiser.

Delvecchio explained his reasoning behind the absence of any gluten-removed claims, suggesting inferior products have given a “black eye” to the gluten-free category as a whole.

Other breweries, like New Planet Beer, are happy to use the “gluten-free” tag; ingredients such as sorghum, brown rice, and corn extract are the base components for the majority of the company’s offerings.

“Labeling and education is so important,” New Planet’s marketing manager Peter Archer told Brewbound in August. “We just want to be as transparent as possible, from start to finish, with our beer.”

The need for clearly defined gluten-free beer labeling guidelines is becoming more important as the entire category continues to grow. By 2017, gluten-free food and beverages are expected to reach $6.6 billion in sales.