If you are not already asking this question, you probably should. Failure to answer this question properly could deprive you of label approval, or add months to your rollout schedule. At one extreme, you could seek to answer this question by poring over the Code of Federal Regulations. This is not for the faint of heart, and can be tough sledding. You could also check with BAM or the formula tool. But BAM is getting pretty old, and the formula tool makes you navigate among hundreds of potential class/types (in a manner that can be circular, if you are not careful). That is, if it’s “bourbon whiskey,” you don’t need a formula approval – but this begs the question of whether it really is bourbon whiskey. At the other extreme, you could deploy guesswork or hunches. Not a good idea. Too much is at stake. Also, this is not particularly intuitive. We could say, yes you need a formula if any compound flavor is added, but this is not a sufficient guidepost. So, as an interim measure, we hereby mention the top beverages that come to mind, and the formula rules.
- Vodka. Imported vodka needs formula approval and TTB sample analysis. TTB wants to make sure it’s at least 80 proof and has no additives inconsistent with the narrow standards for “vodka.” Domestic vodka needs a formula if anything is added, other than water and the distillate.
- Flavored Vodka. The rule is similar, as compared to regular vodka. Also, most anything with a flavor will need formula approval.
- Liqueur. Needs formula approval.
- Specialties. These usually need formula approval whether they are wine specialties or distilled spirits specialties.
- Flavored Malt Beverages. A lot of these don’t need formula approval, if the flavors are traditional. As an example, if you add “vanilla beans” to beer, you can avoid formula approval. But if you add most other forms of vanilla, you would need TTB formula approval.
- Sake. Almost all imported sake needs a formula approval and TTB lab analysis. This can be time-consuming and burdensome. TTB is probably checking for arsenic (common in rice), and to see whether the sake contains brewer’s alcohol/spirits, such that the beverage would be taxed as a spirit rather than as wine or beer.
- Absinthe. Usually needs formula approval and TTB lab analysis. TTB is usually checking for thujone.
- Bourbon. Does not need formula approval. This is probably because the standard is quite rigorous, and handles most of the work. The same rationale applies in the case of Scotch, Tequila, Cognac and other rigorously standardized beverages. By contrast, the less-narrow “whiskey,” often needs formula approval.
- Table wines. These don’t need formula approval, as a general rule.
- Beer, ale, porter, stout, lager. These usually don’t need formula approval.
- Kombucha, cider. It’s not a bad idea to seek formula approval on these, if nothing else but to make sure TTB will not disagree with how you are tending to classify these.
It is probably better to submit a formula and be told it’s not necessary, compared to the opposite. We have handled thousands of formula reviews and approvals. In many cases, this can translate directly into avoiding formula delays and mistakes.
For more information about this topic, contact Robert Lehrman.