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Art Libertucci

Find out more about how TTB and federal agencies really work, in this discussion with Art Libertucci, from the Summer 2017 issue of Artisan Spirit magazine. Art ran TTB for many years, and had a long career in ATF before that. He has a huge amount of experience when it comes to alcohol beverages, rules, taxes, Washington, and so on.

Here as an excerpt, where Art describes the beginning of this journey.

I started my government career as an Inspector for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the IRS. At that time, neither ATF nor TTB existed as separate bureaus. The regulation of alcohol and tobacco products and their taxation were the responsibility of the IRS. I applied for the job after a friend told me about how he was taking an exam for jobs in the federal government. I had been drafted back then in 1969 (I was a draft lottery pick) and that day I was sent home after reporting for duty, having failed my physical exam. My friend told me he was taking the job exam that Saturday and I should go with him and take the test. At that time, taking the test was done at the post office and on a walk in basis. I took the test and received scores a month later. I received my first job offer from ATF, to become an Inspector. I interviewed for the job, was offered a position in Boston, but it was later rescinded due to a sudden federal job freeze. A week later I was called and asked if I would consider the same position in New York City, where they had been given a job freeze exemption. I took the offer and started my career on March 17th, 1970 in New York.

If my math is correct this gives Art 47 years (and counting) of experience, watching the alcohol beverage business from a front row seat.

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Perfect Beach Reading

aspatore

For a good, edifying time, grab a bottle of craft spirits, a beach — and this book.

The book is Moonshiner to Craft Distillery: Leading Lawyers on the Business of Distilling. Aspatore Books, a division of Thomson Reuters, published the book a few weeks ago. In this book, I am pleased to be in the good company of Ryan Malkin, Gloria Materre, Alva Mather, and other notable lawyers in the alcohol beverage law field.

book

Here are a few excerpts from my chapter, entitled “Reflections on Thirty Years of Spirits Law Practice:  From a Few Score to a Few Thousand Distilleries.”

Almost thirty years ago I got lucky and happened upon the hitherto unknown field (unknown at least to me) now known as beverage law. The years have passed quickly, and this is a testament to how challenging and interesting this field can be. Things have moved a long way during that time, from shuffling paper forms, digging through millions of words in black binders, and a country with a few dozen large distilleries. The law has not changed a lot, but the related law practice has changed dramatically, and so has the business climate.

This area of the law is more heavily regulated than any other aspect of consumer products law — more than guns, tobacco, or even pharmaceuticals. What other consumer product is the focus of not just one, but two, Constitutional amendments? Tobacco and marijuana do not rate even one. Thus, in looking at what laws apply most directly to moonshining and proper distilling, we must start with the Constitution and its amendment banning most forms of commercial alcohol production and sale in 1919, as well as its amendment allowing such production, subject to many rules, fourteen years later.

Federal distillery law is made up of the twin pillars of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA) which regulates labeling and permits, and the Internal Revenue Code, which obviously regulates taxes. There are hundreds of pages of regulations under the FAA Act alone, approximately fifty of which are devoted to spirits. Most of them are common sense. Even though some politicians may rail against the profusion of federal rules and intrusions, it is hard to see how anyone can deny that we need rules addressing what to do if an alcohol claims to be 80 proof, but is truly at 81 or 79 proof.

This installment of “Inside the Minds” is also available at Amazon, where it could soon be burning up the charts. Last I heard it was #1 in Books > Professions > Law > Food > Beverages > Distilled Spirits > Craft Spirits > Books Less Than 130 Pages > Books More Than 128 Pages.

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Moonshine

shine

Moonshine. A word that typically conjures up thoughts of illicit high-octane liquor, clandestine stills, mason jars, potential blindness and bearded mountain men with colorful nicknames. Producing moonshine without a license is still illegal in the United States, but a large and growing number of licensed distilleries are now producing their own interpretations of moonshine. And despite moonshine’s negative associations from the past, TTB seems to have no issue allowing the word to appear on distilled spirits labels, as evidenced by the scores of moonshine labels approved so far.  There is also an upsurge in approvals for moonshine’s cousins, such as white dog, white whiskey and white lightning.

As far as we know, there are no specific TTB requirements to label a product “moonshine.” Apparently, moonshine can be a whiskey, a specialty product with flavors of apple or blackberry (for example), a high poof neutral spirit distilled from apples, peach brandy and even tequila. Although it appears that you can call just about any distilled spirits product “moonshine,” we think it is unlikely that TTB would allow the word on beer or wine labels anytime soon.

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Molotov Cocktail

Because the term “Molotov Cocktail” has been so widely used (for at least 70 years), I would have expected somebody to grab onto it and apply it to alcohol beverages sooner. It was not until July of 2011 that somebody grabbed onto it, as in the case of Evil Twin Brewing above. In this case the name relates to the “explosive” and “arrogant” amount of hops in this beer. A few years earlier, Molotov Hoptail had roughly the same idea. Hoptail gets extra points because the brewpub is just down the street and a delightful addition to the neighborhood.

I probably would have expected the term to get applied to something more akin to a traditional “cocktail” and less akin to a traditional beer. But perhaps TTB would have been concerned about the use of cocktail-type language on a spirit that is other than a “recognized cocktail.” TTB has various rules about recognized cocktails, such as pre-mixed margaritas, daiquiris and the like. For example, the BAM says a daiquiri must contain rum and lime, and a margarita must contain Tequila, triple sec and citrus. A few of these cocktails are vaguely reminiscent of the above, at least as to sound: Black Russian, White Russian, Brandy Alexander, Bloody Mary.

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cocktail, malt beverage


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9/11 Wine

The 9/11 Memorial wine is made by Lieb Cellars, LLC of Mattituck, New York. In a rare show of unity, it did not go over well with Anthony Bourdain, Dr. Vino, The Colbert Report, or The Christian Post.

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