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Chokin’ Chicken Vodka

You read that right. It’s far from Chopin Vodka. It’s Chokin’ Vodka. Chokin’ Chicken Vodka to be more precise. This may signal that it’s time for the Wild Turkey and even the Rex Goliath to step aside and make way for another bird.

We are pleased to see that many fun, inventive labels keep going through. I am a little surprised that it was ok to say “Not intended To Grow Hair On A Goat’s Ass.” Chokin’ Chicken is bottled by Gatlinburg Barrelhouse LLC of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

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Cool Bottles

I am glad we are not stuck in this era. Work would not be fun.

Many years ago, TTB/ATF contemplated putting such shackles on the alcohol beverage industry, with a proposal to ban “non-standard containers.” This old chestnut (from about 1999):

proposes to “standardize” the appearance of all alcohol beverage containers. The proposal would accomplish this by prohibiting “Any container that, by virtue of the material from which it is composed or by its shape or design, or that by its ordinary and customary use is likely to mislead the consumer as to the alcohol character of the product. . . .” The proposal expresses ATF’s concern about containers that might confuse consumers about the presence or absence of alcohol in any form. The proposal secondarily expresses concern about containers that might confuse consumers, regulators and the trade about the “alcohol character of the product.” This part of the rule could conceivably be used to prohibit a malt beverage from being packed in a container that looks like a wine bottle, or a distilled spirit cooler from being packed in a container that looks like a beer bottle.

I am delighted to report that this proposal got buried not too many years apart from when one of its foremost proponents got buried. We might otherwise be deprived of all these great ideas that make the industry more competitive, modern, vibrant and fun. A good and further example is Double Agent, as above (approved at Bendistillery, an excellent contract bottler for spirits in Bend, Oregon). The outer chamber is vodka and the inner chamber is liqueur. I am pretty sure nobody will mistake it for a juicebox. Another good example, along these lines, is Milagro Romance Tequila.

Don’t hold your breath, but if we get really creative, perhaps it would only take a few more decades to identify good reasons why this sort of thing should be prohibited (preferably well after the government is running big surpluses, unemployment is below 3%, and other priorities are well under control).

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Flavor Flav Flavored Vodka

Who is this joker and why does he have a vodka? Flavor Flav has a flavored vodka, and it happens to be Bubba Gum flavored. It took almost three months to get the label approved, and so I am enjoying a vision of William Jonathan Drayton, Jr. calling in regular and increasingly anxious status checks to TTB, and arguing about font sizes.

Le Flav joins the swelling ranks of celebrity-endorsed vodka products, alongside Voli (Fergie, Pitbull), Ciroc (Sean Combs), Aftermath (Dr. Dre) and many others.

 

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Class & Type Must Stand Alone

In the above example, it is not sufficient to have VODKA on the front label. Or, the right size. In addition, it needs to be “separate and apart” from other matter. TTB has gotten more strict about this over the years. The above rejection is from a few days ago. The vodka label is from many years ago, to show the movement in the policy, or the enforcement of the policy.

TTB is quite concerned about word placement and proximity. For example, “absinthe” must appear next to other words, as here. Vodka may not, as above. It is important to understand the various proximity rules, because they can lead to unpleasant surprises, and because they extend from spirits to beer and wine. It is probably not okay to bury the word “chardonnay” amidst a sentence singing its praises. It is probably not okay, in most instances, to affix several words before and after BEER.

The rule can be difficult because it’s not always clear how much separation is required (A few spaces? A few line breaks?). It’s not always clear why some terms get treated differently (such as “Silver Rum” or “Cream Liqueur”). It is easy enough to add an extra class/type statement to the front label, to avoid any difficulties (such as adding VODKA to the above label, on its own line) — but only if you know the rule early enough.

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Make Your Own Spirits

It’s clearly okay to go home, add some tomato juice to your vodka, and call it a bloody mary. And it’s almost certainly a bad idea to go home and fire up your small pot still, to make just a little spirits.

Somewhere in the middle, we now have “High Proof Micro-Batch Distilled Neutral Spirit Designed for Infusing.” It comes in a 375 ml. bottle, at 160 proof. It is made by The Northern Maine Distilling Company, of Houlton, Maine. The first related approval seems to go back about one year. It mentions that the vodka is designed for “infusions, extractions, mixology, and culinary applications.” The information-packed website explains:

160 Proof?  Yikes!  Don’t freak over the proof!  The high concentration of alcohol makes Twenty 2 HPS perfect for infusing fruits, vegetables, meats, or dairy into vibrant liqueurs or flavored vodkas.  Think of the 160 Proof like a very sharp knife in your kitchen.  If you handle the knife with respect, it can perform amazing tasks.  Same with the High Proof Spirit.  It’s “sharp blade” creates infusions in hours, not weeks.

We think Northern’s COLA is interesting because we don’t know of too many other products designed for this manner of use. Also, the label underscores that TTB has no problem with strength claims on certain spirits products. This one has “High Proof” in big letters. Plenty of other labels have “Overproof.”

The site has many copyrighted recipes, such as “The Dude’s Caucasian,” inspired by Jeff Bridges and The Big Lebowski. Other eye-opening recipes include:

  • Smoked Gouda Infused Vodka
  • Caramelized Red Onion Infused Vodka
  • Failed Recipes such as Bacon Infused Vodka (“One of the simple rules of this game, like distilling, is ‘junk in = junk out.’” “These are not soy based Bacos, but actual real bacon pieces packed with preservatives so that they don’t need to be refrigerated.  Yum?  Maybe on a salad, but not in an infusion.” “The flavor was of bacon, but not pleasant.  It just wasn’t good.”)

I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out why Twenty 2 as a brand name. I assumed it had something to do with the consumer’s age, such that, e.g., 7 Teen would not be a good choice. The answer was not evident on the company’s website but may be here:

originally, the name for the vodka was Jewell Vodka. But a company out West already had a copyright [trademark?] on that name, so it was back to the drawing board. The couple decided to get a bit more abstract. … “We talked about doing Aroostook Vodka or Katahdin Vodka, but those are so obvious. We figured, let’s pick a word that can be freely associated with anything,” said Galbiati. “Twenty 2 could be anything. It could be your address, your birthday, a sports jersey. It can mean anything to anyone. It sticks in your mind. Plus, the alliteration is nice. A Twenty 2 and tonic sounds good.”

The same Bangor Daily News article also explains, about the owners and startup:

Starting in early 2006, Galbiati and Jewell quit their jobs and began the process of starting up their business. While getting a license for a winery or brewery is, relatively speaking, not uncommon, getting the license for a distillery is a much more involved process. According to federal law, a person can brew up to 100 gallons of beer on their own, or 200 gallons if two adults are present in a household. A person also can make up to 5 gallons of wine. Any more than those amounts, and a license is needed. … A person cannot under any circumstances distill any amount of spirits without a license. It took Galbiati and Jewell about three years to get the OK to start making Twenty 2.

When I first saw the 2011 approval, I was concerned about blowing Twenty 2′s cover, before they were ready, in that the COLA is only a few days old. But they are clearly ready. Of course they have the 2010 COLA, along the same lines, and the 2011 COLA is a public record — but also, Northern has a big website with a lot of information about this idea (plus Twitter and Facebook). On this topic, I will take this opportunity to reconfirm that we have no real interest in publicizing anyone’s news, before they are ready. We make no claim to be journalists. We will be especially careful not to publicize any client news, before the client is good and ready. In the case of non-clients, we may ask, or be guided by generally available information (or the absence thereof). If, as here, the company website has a lot of the same information, it becomes difficult to ascertain what could be sensitive about the COLA.

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