TTB: Understating Alcohol Content Biggest Labeling Issue

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If the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) latest compliance survey is any gauge, about 22 percent of all malt-based beverages have an inaccurate alcohol content posted on their labels.

As part of its annual random survey to discern how accurately manufacturers label their products, the TTB found the most common noncompliance issue among malt beverage producers involved understating the ABV of their products.

The TTB sampled 155 different malt beverages and cited 46 products for 61 identifiable issues. Chief among the reasons for noncompliance were labels that undersold the product’s alcohol content, with 18 citations. 16 labels actually overstated how much alcohol content was in the product, the second most common offense.

The survey was part of the agency’s Alcohol Beverage Sampling Program, which was first established in 2008 to identify common compliance issues in how beer, wine and spirits are regulated.

“The most common compliance issues we identified involved alcohol content that did not match the label and was outside regulatory tolerances, or that placed the product in a different tax class than indicated by the label,” wrote the agency.

So why were nearly a quarter of the products mislabeled? It could have something to do with the rapid growth of smaller, under-resourced craft breweries that are less-equipped to properly test their products, said Brewers Association director Paul Gatza.

“I think it has a lot to do with batch-to-batch variability among malt-beverage producers,” he said. “It is hard to imagine that they’d be as consistent as a brewer that has been there for 10 or 15 years.”

Jason Wilson, CEO of Alabama’s Back Forty Beer Co. reiterated that, saying cost can play a factor in the labeling process.

“For some, it is simply a cost factor. The lab equipment used to determine ABV is pretty unique, and brewers have proven methods to calculate ABV within an acceptable variance using the data that we already have on hand. It’s hard to justify the expense when you’re juggling financial priorities all over the building,” he told Brewbound.

According to Gatza, products checking in 0.3 percentage points above or below the stated alcohol content are still considered compliant and within the TTBs accepted tolerance range.

The survey also found 27 additional infractions unrelated to alcohol content labeling: 10 malt beverage products cited for having non-mandatory information on the label that differed from its Certificate of Label Approval (COLA); four products cited for omitting mandatory information; four that contained errors in listed government warnings; two for listing mandatory information that differed from the COLA and two without COLAs at all. Five other labels were cited for minor infractions.

Comparatively, last year, there were 92 noncompliance issues identified, but the number of malt beverages sampled was considerably larger, at 239.

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