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28 Proof and Not Beer, Wine or Spirit

gab gaf

 

It looks like moonshine.

But it’s not spirits. It’s not even beer or wine, and yet it is 28 proof.

I stumbled on Great America “Carolina Clear” at a gas station in Bardstown, Kentucky, of all places. It was just a couple miles from Jim Beam and Four Roses. I would have assumed the heart of Bourbon Country is roughly the last place for a product such as this to thrive. And yet, the guy loitering and smoking out front advised it is an excellent product and will get one messed up almost as good as the illegal stuff. The display had about 40 jars of the product, in various flavors, a couple days ago. When I went back today, only one jar was left.

s2And so, if it’s not beer, wine or spirits — what could it possibly be? It took me a few minutes, and a return trip, to sort it out, because this is indeed an unusual product.

The front label describes it as Carolina Clear, Malt Specialty. There is no mention of beer, and there is no TTB label approval, because the product apparently lacks the hops and malted barley required to fit within the U.S. definition of a “malt beverage.”

The back label explains, in the FDA-style ingredient list, that the product only has three ingredients. I don’t think anyone will be surprised, at least at this point, that those ingredients are not the ones elevated in the Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer Purity Law of 1487, allowing beer to be made with water, barley and hops only). The North Carolina-made “malt specistoutalty,” selling for $5.99 a jar, is made only with high fructose corn syrup, distilled water, and sodium benzoate. It is tough to imagine an alcohol beverage that could be produced at lower cost.

The product can’t fit within TTB’s label rules for beer-type beverages due to the lack of hops and barley. It falls outside the spirits labeling rules due to the lack of distillation. It is harder to see why the product falls outside TTB’s wine labeling rules, because it is like saké, at least in the sense that is also fermented from grain, and the federal government treats saké as wine, for labeling purposes. It is clear that Great America views the product as outside the TTB labeling rules because:

  1. TTB would have required a label approval. I see one label approval for this company, but none that match this product.
  2. TTB might have eventually said it looks too much like a spirits product, and might have required a clearer and more prominent statement of identity on the front label.
  3. The product seems to do a decent job of complying with the FDA food labeling rules (as opposed to the somewhat different TTB labeling rules). The serving size, however, at 3 ounces, seems very small (and the 7.8 servings per container seems absurdly large). This Joose-brand flavored malt beverage has a similar net contents and alcohol content, and yet is sold in single-serve cans.

Notwithstanding these distinctions, the federal taxes and permit requirements would be the same for this product as compared to typical beer.

This product is put out by Stout Brewing Company and also comes in common moonshine flavors such as peach, apple pie, and strawberry. Stout also markets similar products in 3 ounce tubes (as in the image immediately above).

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Rye Beer

 

Latrobe did a “brilliant” job here, picking up on a lot of important trends.

Let’s see how many instructive legal issues this one label raises. Extra points for anyone who can raise additional issues. No more ALS challenges, please.

  1. It is beer but it more or less screams spirits.
  2. In a variety of ways. (For example, the brand name refers to moonshine paraphernalia, as Tickle’s sidekick helpfully explains.*)
  3. Within the rules, probably.
  4. Even though spirits terms are not allowed on beer labels.
  5. Even though this product contains and purports to contain absolutely no whiskey of any sort.
  6. It mentions George Dickel at least three times.
  7. It mentions Rye but not Rye Whiskey. This is very smart in that, though they mean about the same thing to most people, rye is just a grain, and it’s not necessarily whiskey without the second word attached. Like Bourbon is not sufficient on even a Bourbon Whiskey label, without the second word.
  8. Latrobe used a formula, notwithstanding that TTB has eased way up on formula requirements.
  9. The label raises a lot of good trademark issues, tied up with Latrobe’s use of another company’s highly protected brand name.
  10. TTB seems to be allowing the term “refreshing” these days, on a pretty liberal basis, even though this policy has wavered a bit over the years.

This Tequila-themed beer shows that the above Whiskey-themed beer label is not just a fluke.

What did we miss?

* John’s parents will be proud that we have done some work for Tim Smith, Junior Johnson, The Hatfields & McCoys, Jesse Jane, Popcorn Sutton, Jesse James and other rapscallions. And this guy just looks guilty — I am not sure of what — but moonshining at least.

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Moscato Liqueur

Moscato is so very popular it can no longer stay contained within the wine context. Here it is — in a liqueur. The product is Courvoisier Gold – Cognac & Moscato. It is classified as a liqueur, made in France, and imported by Jim Beam.

This seems like an important approval because it was not so very long ago that TTB/ATF frowned upon varietal terms — when used on spirits labels — and even when the spirit was made almost entirely from the named grape. For example, it was very common in the 1990s for ATF to say that varietal terms should not be shown, or should not be prominent, on grappa labels, because varietal characteristics are subtle and are not likely to survive past distillation.

It looks like it took Beam many months to get this approval. The application went in on March 5, 2012 and did not get approved until more than three months later. It must be a pretty special grape if it’s the subject of not only a bunch of rap songs, but also a few memes:  problem, freshman, classy, cat.

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Distilled Beer

Q: What do you call spirits distilled from beer?
A: Not “Spirits Distilled from Beer.”

Every now and then we see a “Bierschnapps” or a “spirit distilled from beer.” But even though beer is the main ingredient, most of the U.S. approvals seem to avoid any reference to “beer” or “bier.” It seems that TTB is not in favor of spirits labels that refer to beer.

In the above example, Woodstone Microspirit seems to be, pretty much, just spirits distilled from beer. Even though the producer probably wanted to describe it as “bierschnapps” on the label, the main description is “Spirits Distilled from Grain and Hops.” The producer, back in 2008, set forth his frustrations here:

Beer Schnapps as a label has not been approved by the TTB for 4 months 3 tries and counting, the formula from the local microbrewery was accepted on the 2nd time through.  Its been over 2 years so far and it is fighting me every step of the way. … We are now re-submitting the product with a fanciful name and not calling the product beer schnapps at all.

TTB seems to have allowed a reference to ale but not beer.

Classick is another example of a bierschnapps. I have not been able to find the label approval, but the San Francisco Chronicle discussed the product in 2002:

Bierschnaps, the liquor in question, is relatively unknown outside of its place of origin, Bavaria, Germany. It is made from beer that has been distilled into a clear, 80 proof spirit similar to premium vodka. … Even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hadn’t heard of the spirit, so the government officials insisted that Classick and Mirenda provide samples of German bierschnaps to prove its legitimacy. … Four hundred regulations later, in November 1999, Essential Spirits sent to the shelves its first bottle of Classick Original American Bierschnaps, which is distilled from the company’s own micro-brewed California pale ale. In April 2000 came a partnership with a major craft brewer, introducing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bierschnaps.

TTB has liberalized in many areas and yet various and sundry pockets of great strictness remain.

 

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Dogs + Fishes, Beer + Wine

Shanken News Daily recently alerted us to Dogfish Noble Rot. It is:

a wine/beer hybrid that combines traditional barley, hops, water and yeast with winegrapes. Named for the grape fungus botrytis, which is associated with Sauternes and Tokaji dessert wines, Noble Rot uses Viognier and Pinot Gris grapes sourced from Washington’s Alexandria Nicole Cellars. The 9%-abv offering will be available in about 27 states this week, priced at $13 a 750-ml.

The statement of composition on this product looks a bit redundant, with two references to grape must — but upon closer review it nicely underscores the distinction about adding the grape must before and after fermentation. I wonder if the must added before fermentation could or should be considered wine. Dogfish explains:

The first addition is unfermented juice, known as must, from viognier grapes that have been infected with a benevolent fungus called botrytis. This noble rot reduces the water content in the grapes while magnifying their sweetness and complexity. The second is pinot gris must intensified by a process called dropping fruit, where large clusters of grapes are clipped to amplify the quality of those left behind. “This is the absolute closest to equal meshing of the wine world and the beer world thats ever been done commercially,” says Dogfish’s Sam Calagione.

The Washington Post apparently saw this beer a long time ago and added many crucial details:

Thousands of years ago, notes Sam Calagione, our distant ancestors didn’t draw a semantic line in the sand between beer and wine. Whatever fermentables they had, whether grain or fruit, went into a common pot to produce their unique tipples.

What is noteworthy is that the grapes and the grain each contribute about half of the fermentable sugars.

Given that beer and wine are taxed and regulated differently, did Calagione get any flack from alcohol regulatory authorities? “The only challenge was that the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] wanted a better description of at what point we added the grapes,” noted Calagione. For the record, the botrytis-infected must (the unfermented grape juice) is added after the boil, and the pinot gris juice post-fermentation, primarily for extra aroma.

Calagione estimated that he made about 4,400 cases of Noble Rot and expected it to linger on shelves until May. He anticipated prices of $12-13 for a 750-mililiter bottle. That will scarcely recoup his costs, he added. “I paid $62,000 alone to transport a tanker truck of temperature-controlled grape must from coast to coast,” he noted.

Aside from the joy of experimentation, Calagione confesses that he had another reason for producing this beer: “We always wanted to see if a beer with the word ‘rot’ in the name would actually sell.”

We’ve seen plenty of beers and whiskies aged in wine barrels, and beers that look like wine and we will be on the prowl for actual beers with actual wine added. It sounds better than wine with beer added.

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