How Will TTB's Modernized Rules Affect Your Distillery?

April 28, 2020

This April, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published the Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages.

We've deciphered the 100+ page document and summarized the biggest changes to make your life easier!


  • Clarification in the TTB's definition of what counts as a barrel
  • Bottled in bond gins coming soon?
  • Updated brand label design guidelines
  • Updated age statement guidelines
  • Stricter guidelines for multiple distillation claims
  • Clarifications to the identity of vodka
  • "Straight" is now an optional designation
  • New class of "agave spirits"

Clarification In The TTB's Definition Of A Barrel:

In late 2018, with Notice No. 176, TTB proposed in a switch in the definition of barrels to a “cylindrical oak drum of approximately 50 gallons capacity.” This proposal was met with much controversy. Many criticized it as a direct action against craft distilleries, many of whom rely on smaller barrels or alternative methods to speed up aging times. 

The Ruling:

  • The definition of an “oak barrel” will continue to include wooden barrels of varying shape and size. No official statement was made on whether metal containers with staves or chips count as a barrel.     

Bottled In Bond Gins Coming Soon? 

Ever seen a bottled in bond (BIB) gin? Almost certainly not. Until now, Gin could be labeled as “BIB” only if it met BIB standards and was stored in a paraffin-lined barrel to block contact with wood, effectively preventing any aging.

The Ruling:

  • Bottled in bond gin can now be stored in “either paraffin-lined or unlined barrels.” Bring on the BIB gins!

Updated Brand Label Design Guidelines:

In the past, TTB has required that a product’s “brand name, class and type designation, and alcohol content” be displayed in the same field of view, on the front panel of the product. With the new rules, TTB has expanded labeling options, opening new label design opportunities.

The Ruling:

  • It’s permissible to display the “brandname, class and type designation, and alcohol content” on any side of the bottle, provided they are in the same field of vision.

Updated Age Statement Guidelines:

In the past, TTB has preached that only the time spent in a first barrel can count towards the age statement. Additionally, TTB has restricted age statements to certain classes of spirits. TTB posted updated regulations on what counts as aging time. They have also broadened the scope of which classes of product can sport age statements. 

The Ruling:

  • All time in oak containers can be counted towards the age statement, even if multiple are used (i.e. port/sherry cask finished whiskeys). If the standard of identity requires a particular type of barrel (e.g. straight whisky requires 2 years in new charred oak), that requirement must be fulfilled before transfer to another container.
  • Age statements are now permitted on all spirits except neutral spirits and vodka.

Multiple Distillation Claims:

This is one of the biggest changes to come from the TTB this year, so take note. TTB is changing what can be counted as a “Distillation” when it comes to labeling.

The Ruling:

  • A “Distillation” is now defined as “a single run through a pot still or one run through a single distillation column of a column (reflux) still”.
  • Plates in a column still do not add towards the number of distillations that can be claimed on the label (e.g. one run through a 1 plate column or one run through a 10 plate column both count as only 1 distillation)
  • Distillers may “count all distillations, including those required to meet a specific standard of identity" when making labeling claims

Clarifications To The Identity Of Vodka:

The TTB has historically defined vodka as a spirit “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or colors”. Over the years, much has changed in this spirit category. Producers are taking creative liberties to set their brands apart with different flavor profiles, colors, flavorings, and more. TTB has updated and clarified their definitions to reflect the current state of the industry. 

 The Ruling:

  • Vodka’s definition no longer requires the absence of “distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” The standards of production do still apply. 
  • Products labeled as Vodka “may not be aged or stored in wood barrels at any time”
  • Vodka can be labeled “charcoal-filtered” if treated with “not less than one ounce of activated carbon or activated charcoal per 100 wine gallons of spirits”

Straight Is Now An Optional Designation:

Under current policy, TTB labeling mandates that any whiskey aged over two years must be labeled as a straight. The TTB proposed removing this classification to allow for additional labeling flexibility.

The Ruling:

  • The “Straight” designation is now an optional designation for spirits that meet the classification.  

New Class of Agave Spirits:

Spirits created from agave are gaining popularity. Historically these spirits hail almost exclusively from Mexico, but domestic producers have begun distilling their own spirits from agave. To keep up with the trends, TTB created a new class of spirits that will encompass spirits made from this succulent.

The Ruling:

  • There is a new class of spirits: “Agave Spirits.” 
  • Tequila and Mezcal fall under this new class.
  • Any product currently approved as “spirits distilled from agave” can optionally be changed to “Agave Spirits,” so long as it meets the requirements for this classification.

The full text for these legislative changes can be found here.

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