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Posts Tagged ‘media buzz’

NJ Law Journal

njlj

The New Jersey Law Journal recently featured Lehrman Beverage Law in a story about the growth of craft beer producers, craft spirits producers, and the law firms that have sprung up to support them. An excerpt of the story is here (the full version is here and requires registration). We are pleased to report, further, that our firm typically has at least five or six professionals working directly on alcohol beverage matters in a typical day. This particular article highlights Dan, who is a trademark and beer lawyer; John, who is an avid home brewer and handles a range of alcohol beverage issues; and Robert (who is not sure whether to be thrilled or mortified as he enters his 27th year handling legal issues for beer, wine and spirits companies around the world).

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Beer, Pot and the Government

potJoe Sixpack this week has a good and thorough look at the many beer labels that talk about and tip a hat to their colleague, marijuana. The numbers and audacity are surely growing, as the old and antiquated laws fall by the wayside a bit. I like the quaint and funny reference to coats of arms:

With this month’s ballyhooed legalization of marijuana in Colorado, some beer makers are adding playful drug references to their brand names and labels, and regulators can do little to censor them.

Label oversight, a quirky if contentious area of federal alcohol law, has confounded breweries for years with often capricious standards that bear little on consumer protection.

Federal law, for example, oddly prohibits the use of coats of arms or wording that promises ‘pre-war strength,’ whatever that means.

Mr. Russell (aka Joe) also helped educate me that a safety meeting is not necessarily boring and dire:

Yes, there are limits. Dark Horse Brewing, in Michigan, lost its bid for Smells Like Weed IPA, though its hops, in fact, smell like pot. The name was later changed to Smells Like A Safety Meeting IPA. (A ‘safety meeting’ is slang for taking a break on the job to light up a doober.)

But expect to see fewer of those objections as more states move toward legalization.

Joe Sixpack has at least 16 label examples here and here.

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Nobama Beer

What is it about beer that encourages people to say things — they would never want to say on cheese or ketchup labels? In the latest skirmish, an Oklahoma brewer came out with Nobama Beer during the past few weeks.

It appears that TTB was not too fond of this brand name, at least at first. But then Huebert Brewing Company, their lawyer, and the local NBC affiliate went on the offensive, to push the label through, as shown in this video. I must admit, I did not expect to see a TV news story about the finer points of TTB Form 5100.31, Exemptions from Label Approval, or TTB’s renowned beer label reviewer (the one person that has reviewed and approved the label for just about every beer currently available in the US). The first video shows that TTB at first allowed the beer only within Oklahoma, but the above approval, and this later video, shows that TTB shortly thereafter felt compelled to allow it more widely.

The examples of envelope-pushing beer labels are probably too numerous to mention here. And they are certainly not limited to the Obama bashers, as in this example.

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From IRS to ATF to TTB to What?

We are starting to get a lot of questions about TTB’s future. Over the years I have marveled and wondered if Bill Clinton or George W. Bush spent much time pondering the fate of ATF or TTB (and, for example, the intricacies of the label approval process). Well, the Obama Administration clearly thinks about it a lot. Late last year, Wine & Spirits Daily wrote:

Obama’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB) is considering “the impact of folding TTB’s tax enforcement and collection functions into IRS, to be proposed in the Budget and implemented in FY 2013,” reports Kane’s Beverage News Daily. The TTB has until Dec 28 to submit a proposal to the OMB “analyzing the feasibility and appropriateness of this proposal, including a discussion of how the missions and goals of these two agencies could be combined.” Furthermore, TTB is to review whether its “regulatory and health-safety functions” can be transferred to the IRS or even the FDA.

Since then, there has been almost nothing in the press about this important story. As recently as today, Google News has not much of any consequence on this issue. I don’t see much on TTB’s website or newsletters. A few days ago, however, The Gray Report set forth some new information on this topic, and it provoked a lively discussion in the comments. W. Blake Gray wrote:

The politics of this potential elimination of the TTB are fascinating, and ultimately why I don’t think it will happen even if Obama wants it. … In this climate where government austerity is seen by many as a good thing, Obama could gain some chips by trying to eliminate a federal agency. … However, the Republicans in the House seem dead-set on preventing him from achieving anything at all, and that will only intensify leading up to November. I think they’ll reflexively oppose it. … But what a conflict it poses philosophically for Republicans. Deregulation is a party tenet — but how would social conservatives react to restrictions being taken off of Demon Rum?

The 2013 Federal Budget is set to be released in a week. According to The Washington Post, “The budget is traditionally released on the first Monday in February — which is Feb. 6 — but the administration has pushed the release to Feb. 13.” Last month, Wine & Spirits Daily wrote:

The TTB has since submitted a plan analyzing the proposal to the Office of Management & Budget, but nothing is public or final at this point. … There are two current speculations as to how the reorganization would go down. One, the organization and all of its functions would be taken in one lump sum and deposited into a corner of the IRS. Two, the TTB’s tax enforcement and collection function could go to the IRS, while its regulatory and health-safety functions could go to the FDA. This is the most extreme scenario. One thing that almost everyone agreed one, however, is that an united alcohol beverage industry has enough power to squash any such proposal if it indeed made its way to Congress.

At least with the TTB the industry is the priority. With the FDA you’re with 25 or 30 other industries.” Even more problematic is that the FDA may have some anti-alcohol types, whereas the TTB is a neutral force.

One of the biggest complaints last year was the TTB’s slow response time when it came to approving labels – a result of less funding by Obama and inevitable lay-offs. As a remedy, the TTB proposed shifting its duties more towards enforcement rather than label pre-approvals, but the industry fought it. Instead, it seems the industry would rather the TTB speed up the COLA process than do away with it.

[I]t doesn’t seem likely that disbanding the TTB would save much money because theoretically it would require the same amount of people to complete the same functions now performed by the TTB, which “is pretty bare bones as it is.” Furthermore, the “TTB is one of the few revenue generating agencies in the federal government. They make a lot of money. It would be hard to split it up effectively.”

Three years ago, as part of the 2010 Budget, the Obama Administration flirted with the idea of imposing user fees for various TTB activities, and not much came of it. In our opinion, to the extent this is some kind of business school-type exercise, or thought experiment (as in, show cause why there should not be a shakeup), it could be useful. But, if any reorganization would take several hundred people from one entity and replace them with a similar number at one or more other entities, it is hard to imagine that the costs would not outweigh the benefits.

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Poor, Unprintable Stu

Last week The New York Times had a good article entitled “With Rude Names, Wine Stops Minding Its Manners.” The article focused on the wide variety of Bitch-themed wines in the US marketplace. The article describes Royal Bitch as:

one of a teeming sisterhood of cabernets and chardonnays from a variety of producers with labels like Sassy Bitch, Jealous Bitch, Tasty Bitch and Sweet Bitch. They’re reinforcements for a growing army of rude, budget-priced wines that have shoved their way into wine stores and supermarkets in the past few years — most recently Happy Bitch, a Hudson Valley rosé that made its debut last month.

The article closes by saying:

Winemakers have some way to go before equaling the shock value of Jersey’s Toxic Waste, a specialty spirit. But the bitch category may yield dividends. Take Rae-Jean Beach, a blended white wine. (The name needs to be said aloud.) She’s got a husband, a zinfandel. Sorry, but the name is not printable here.

Though Mrs. Pedasso’s husband may be too “rude” for publication within the august confines of The New York Times Dining Section, it is my pleasure to bring back Mr. Stu Pedasso and his lovely wife, Rae-Jean Beach.

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