American Single Whiskey Distillers Talk About Proposed TTB Changes

By Guest Post / June 21, 2019

Editor’s Note: With the clock winding down towards June 26 on the public comment period for the TTB proposed modernization of labeling new rules, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, a trade group representing American distilleries producing American single malt whiskeys, has chimed in with their thoughts. Their letter to the TTB is reposted here for your consideration.

In response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking dated November 26th, 2018 regarding the Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages, in which a Standard of Identity for American Single Malt Whisk(e)y was not included, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC)—a national association representing more than 130 producers of American Single Malt Whiskey across the United States and over 210 trade and media supporters—would like to formally renew our petition to include our previously-submitted Standard of Identity in the final ratified C.F.R. 

For the past 10 years, the American whisk(e)y category has been growing exponentially and continues to expand and exceed all expectations. Recognition of U.S.-produced whisk(e)y, and American Single Malt Whisk(e)y in particular, is now at an all-time high, with U.S. distillers winning awards and competitions nationally and around the world. The formal establishment of this category would signal to the world that not only do we believe in and support our own distilleries, but we also recognize that American Single Malt Whisk(e)y is unique (as Bourbon is) and deserves to be defined and protected. These protections have been in place for Scotch Whisk(e)y for generations and we believe that to protect the developing category in the U.S., such regulations should be in place here as well. While our proposed Standard of Identity outlined below stays true to the fundamental intentions behind definitions established in Scotland and around the world for single malt whisk(e)y, we have purposefully omitted some restrictions that would unnecessarily inhibit innovation. These omissions do nothing to compromise the integrity of the definition but do pave the way for American Single Malt Whiskey to contribute a unique voice in the world of single malt whisk(e)y. 

The Standard of Identity is the first step in establishing the category and we believe that by securing a formal Standard of Identity in the C.F.R., consumers will benefit from the clear definition of what constitutes a single malt whisk(e)y produced in the U.S. This will establish trust in the category, clarify label declarations, and equip consumers with the necessary information to make informed decisions so they can have confidence in the product they are choosing to buy.

American single malt

A range of American single malts from craft distillers. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Currently there are more than 130 (and counting) members of the ASMWC. The passage of this Standard of Identity would ensure the widespread creation of jobs in agriculture, bottling, distilling, distribution, and retailing of their products. Most distilleries are sourcing a majority of their malted barley from within the United States which provides needed revenue to the nation’s farmers and domestic malting companies. With the continued focus on locally-sourced products, farm-to-table initiatives, and consumers’ desire to support the U.S. economy, the establishment of this category will strengthen the U.S. economy and create jobs. Additionally, barley is an expensive crop to produce (compared to corn, rye, or wheat) which results in a higher wage for farmers, but also a more premium, higher-priced product on the shelf. Higher prices will translate to higher margins for distributors and retailers, and higher tax revenues realized at the local level.

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American Single Malt Whisk(e)y Labeling for Distilled Spirits Serves Consumers and Defines an Existing Category for the World Whisk(e)y Market

We respectfully submit that TTB is currently approving labels bearing American Single Malt Whiskey without a clear definition that identifies exactly what is in the bottle and the process used to create the product. It is our intention to provide truthful and accurate information that benefits the consumer and marketplace. The establishment of a Standard of Identity that clearly indicates the unique product (and process) would do just that. 

As such, we suggest that the following American Single Malt Whisk(e)y definition be drafted into the part 27 C.F.R. §5.22(b):

“American Single Malt Whisk(e)y is whisk(e)y distilled entirely at one United States distillery, mashed, distilled, and matured in the United States of America, distilled to a proof not exceeding 160° proof from fermented mash of 100% malted barley and stored in oak containers not exceeding 700 liters, and bottled at not less than 80° proof.”

We believe the aforementioned language is complementary to long-standing definitions that exist for Bourbon and whisk(e)y in the C.F.R. but is distinctive enough to add value to the new class/type designation for American Single Malt Whisk(e)y. 

We have the support of more than 130 producers of single malt in this country, to say nothing of the long list of other non-producing supporters from within the industry, something the TTB has stated would be necessary for inclusion in the C.F.R. There is also a considerable amount of support voiced by U.S. and international consumers as evidenced by the growing sales of these products over the past few years.

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For all of these reasons, we urge that proposed 27 C.F.R. §5.22(b): be revised to state that, as a category, American Single Malt Whisk(e)y should be included in TTB’s action to update the C.F.R. and examine the regulations and modernize them, where appropriate. We feel that this is an area that has had no opposition and the considerable support continues to increase.

In addition to our petition to include the American Single Malt Whiskey Standard of Identity, our membership would also like to comment on the following proposed rule changes:

  • RIN: 1513-AC45: We are in favor of the newly published proposed rule eliminating all but minimum and maximum standards of fill for distilled spirits containers. This revision would provide producers with more flexibility in creating products to appeal to various consumer segments, would allow domestic producers to more easily export to foreign markets, and would provide opportunities to dramatically improve the costs of doing business.   
  • D. Proposed Changes Specific to 27 CFR Part 5 (Distilled Spirits) Subpart A—General Provisions: We are in favor of the current proposal § 5.66 (f) requiring that the state of original distillation for certain whisky products be shown on the label in at least one of the three ways outlined.
  • D. Proposed Changes Specific to 27 CFR Part 5 (Distilled Spirits) Subpart A—General Provisions: We are opposed to the language proposing oak barrels be defined as being approximately 50 gallons for whisk(e)y. We believe this restriction is ambiguous and also limits producers’ ability to create unique or innovative products. 
  • D. Proposed Changes Specific to 27 CFR Part 5 (Distilled Spirits) Subpart A—General Provisions: We are opposed to the proposal that would prohibit producers from including time spent finishing spirit during maturation in listed age statements. We contend that secondary aging, or “finishing”, counts every bit as much as the first barrel in determining “age” and including that time spent in-barrel in age statement calculations provides consumers with more comprehensive and accurate information. 
  • A revision not addressed in the Proposed Rules but our one that membership would petition to be included is further clarification regarding the definition and implication of “finished” whisk(e)y. Under current regulations finishing in secondary oak barrels requires a change in class from Whiskey to Distilled Spirit Specialty, which doesn’t allow for an age statement. Fundamentally we believe this is not only misleading to the consumer but also does not align with global traditions for single malt whisk(e)y, rum, tequila, brandy, etc.
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Thank you for providing us with an opportunity to file this petition. We stand ready to assist TTB in these important endeavors and, if you have any questions regarding our submission, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.