Posts Tagged ‘therapeutic’

Gluten Free Ruling

TTB announced a big policy change — about gluten free — just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

For many years before the announcement, plenty of companies have tried to make “gluten free” claims, but we still didn’t see any approved TTB labels referring to “gluten free.” A few weeks back, we thought we had one, when we heard a lot of buzz about Omission beer as above. But alas, even the Omission label has had a big omission when it comes to this particular claim.

All this is about to change in a big way, as result of this TTB Ruling, released late last week. As a result, we may begin to see various gluten free claims on TTB labels in the very near future.

To show the earlier TTB policy, a fairly recent TTB rejection is here, and it may help explain why Widmer did not come out and say it louder or earlier. TTB’s caution may well have been justified; Brewbound has explained:  “The release of Omission Beer comes just a few months after a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that eight commercial beers currently labeled as ‘gluten-free’ contained as much gluten as regular beer.”

Brewbound further explained that there are plenty of other beers that seek to minimize or eliminate gluten, but most of the others (such as this Bard’s Tale) are made with sorghum as a substitute for malted barley:

Ordinarily a new product release wouldn’t be so newsworthy but the launch of Omission marks the first time a U.S. craft brewer has been able to produce a gluten-free beer while still using malted barley in the brew process.

In the same article, the beer company’s CEO explains:

Omission beer is brewed with malted barley, but we’ve developed a proprietary process to reduce the gluten levels to well below the internationally accepted gluten-free standard of 20 parts per million of gluten. We are currently working with the TTB and the FDA to update the definition of the term ‘gluten-free.’… The inspiration behind Omission beers was personal. I am a 12-year celiac, our brewmaster’s wife is a celiac, as are several other members of our team. … We’re also going to talk about the extensive testing that Omission beers go through to ensure that every batch of Omission beer is well below the international gluten-free standard of 20 ppm. In fact, each bottle of Omission Beer caries a date stamp connecting the brew to its specific batch. Consumers can visit www.OmissionTests.com, type in the date code stamped on their bottle, and see that beers’ test results. … An estimated three million Americans have celiac disease.

Even though there is little to no gluten talk on Omission’s approved label (so far), there is plenty of gluten talk on the brand’s website. For example, the FAQ says “Is Omission beer gluten free?  According to federal guidelines, we aren’t legally allowed to claim that Omission beer is gluten-free outside of Oregon … . While the FDA proposed to define the term ‘gluten free,'” that definition has not been formally adopted … .”

As a result of TTB Ruling 2012-2, look for Widmer and many others to push much further toward gluten free claims in the near future.


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alcohol beverages generally, malt beverage

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Bacon Brown Ale

As this blog enters its fifth (gulp, yes, fifth) calendar year, it has covered many bacon-related concoctions. There was of course this bacon flavored vodka in 2009 and this bacon flavored beer in 2010.

Although it’s not clear that any of the earlier-featured bacon-related products contained actual bacon, it was only a matter of time until something like Bacon Brown Ale came along. It is Ale Brewed with Buckwheat and Bacon, made by Uncommon Brewers, of Santa Cruz, California. The brewer explains:

We’re not faking our flavor with smoked malts, Bac-O Bits or other tricks that some breweries are using to create their bacon beers … . There’s real cured pork in that beer.

Even though the government would probably not allow anything resembling a health claim regarding normal beer, wine or spirits — whether tongue in cheek or not — everyone seems to have a soft spot for bacon. The TTB-approved label does indeed proclaim that “bacon makes everything better.”


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flavored malt beverage

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AJ Report on Health Claims, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 of 2

AJ’s next target is MGD beer. “Probably the most blatantly illegal advertisement came in early 2009, when a new beer called MGD 64 (boasting just 64 calories) sponsored an online fitness program…” With a claim like that it would be nice to know what makes it “illegal,” if not the imagery of “a thin, toned brunette in a party dress, smiling brightly as she showed off the beer-sponsored body that users could obtain if they joined.” With little analysis or evidence, AJ summarily concludes that the marketing is “patently false and misleading.” By contrast, in my opinion, if you are going to strip most of the calories and body away from a beer, down to a puny 64 calories, you darned well have the right to market it as only 64 calories (especially when the same amount of milk, apple juice or regular beer would have 2-3 times as many calories).

The “Industry Watchdog” lays much of the blame for this sorry state of affairs at the feet of the industry’s failure to properly regulate itself:  “Finally, the most important reason for the breakdown in regulatory oversight is the continuing charade of voluntary self-regulation.” AJ says the industry has “created a system of codes, largely designed to convince policymakers they do not need to intervene, and that the industry can monitor itself” and the system is not working. But AJ would be no happier to have TTB calling the shots. AJ claims that “The government officials at TTB have little to no expertise in health. A better choice might be the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” AJ provides not a scintilla of evidence that FDA would or could do any kind of a better job with a single one of the issues noted above. FDA might be far more likely to allow vitamins in vodka and on the label. FDA does not police the term natural more strictly compared to TTB. FDA would not be likely to restrict the use of organic claims or disallow MGD from marketing itself as low in calories.

In view of the weak examples set out by the report, and with few if any meaningful health claims getting past TTB, it is a wonder to behold what more rigorous enforcement would look like. Should the government ban imagery associated with sound, ripe fruits (because they are “wholesome” and booze is not)? Should Baileys be stripped of all rights to mention dairy cream (because it’s commonly associated with healthfulness)?

Last but not least, AJ sets its sights on the First Amendment. AJ claims:

Another charade in which the industry engages to keep regulators at bay is to argue that the free speech clause under the First Amendment protects companies from any government regulation of advertising. This makes for good political posturing, but from a legal standpoint, it’s simply not true. The First Amendment does not protect deceptive advertising. The government can and should stop such practices.

This would be damnable if it were true. Is anyone arguing the First Amendment protects companies from all advertising regulations? The part that’s simply not true is to suggest that a meaningful number of alcohol beverage companies make this claim. I am not aware of any alcohol beverage company above a handful of employees that has or would make an extravagant claim of this sort. Most of them favor and support a wide variety of sensible controls on labeling and advertising. To put things in perspective, Dr. David J. Hanson has a detailed overview of AJ and Marin (and its funding, methods and history) here. He explains that it’s nothing new for the group to “[crusade] against First Amendment constitutional free speech rights” in pursuit of its prohibitionist agenda.

It’s not like I left out the better examples, or the better arguments. With even the protein-infused vodka (Devotion), where is the actual, documented harm, as opposed to some vague possibility? I would have liked to find more in this report with which I could agree. I do agree with the premise that alcohol beverages still, after all these years, can raise difficult societal and public health issues, and need to be regulated with seriousness and care. But because the AJ report relies so much on exaggeration, distortion and weak examples, for me the report succeeds mostly in showing there is not a substantial problem related to health claims by alcohol beverage companies.

AJ Report on Health Claims


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Posted in:

alcohol beverages generally

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AJ Report on Health Claims, Part 1

Back in June, Alcohol Justice issued a report entitled “Questionable Health Claims by Alcohol Companies.” I was pretty excited to read this report, because we study such matters closely. Every few weeks I get an exuberant report of a big health claim, on another alcohol beverage product — but it almost always turns out to be a false alarm.

Also, I wanted to give AJ (formerly known as The Marin Institute) a fair chance to persuade me that a lot of companies do in fact go over “the line.” Even though I freely admit that we derive most of our revenue from alcohol beverage companies, I like to think we are fair and open-minded enough to agree with a strong and well-made point.

The report tends to say a large number of alcohol beverage companies are running roughshod over consumers, with phony health claims, and with the rules either insufficient or largely ignored. AJ suggests the rules are “constantly being violated.”

These advertising practices are legally tenuous, morally unsound, and potentially dangerous. … Using health messages to sell products that can cause such widespread harm is not only unethical, it’s illegal, and yet the regulatory system has failed miserably to protect the American public. … This report examines this disturbing trend to promote alcohol as a health and fitness product…

I was eager to see the evidence at long last. I have seen many a company try and fail, to find a way to meekly suggest that their product might have some positive attributes beyond taste. I recall when a few wine labels tried but failed to suggest, after much litigation, that it might not be a bad idea to check with your doctor about the health effects of wine. Mind you, there was no reference to health benefits. I was eager to see the examples of wine labels promoting heart health; I was eager to see the various digestif labels promoting longevity and improved digestive function; I was eager to see the various anti-oxidant labels that had so stubbornly evaded my past inquisitions.

Instead, AJ trotted out Lotus “Vitamin Infused” Vodka. It sounds dramatic, with all the talk of vitamins and vodka.

[T]he first fortified – or “enhanced” – vodka was introduced in 2007. Lotus White is infused with vitamins B3, B6, B9, and B12. According to the company’s CEO, the vitamins are meant to curb or eradicate hangovers. In an interview, he said the vodka “could actually be good for you.” … Despite the dubious nature of [the] health claims, the marketing techniques seem to be working. Lotus vodka’s sales increased 50 percent in 2009…

AJ fails to note that it never mentioned vitamins on the label, and so far as I know, it hasn’t been sold in many years. It never sold more than a few thousand bottles per year, worldwide. The fading Lotus website shows a total of five web retailers; none of them carry this anymore or have it in stock.

If this is the best AJ can do, with thousands of new alcohol beverage products every year, and over 130,000 label approvals per year, it is tough to imagine a more ringing endorsement for the status quo.

AJ next rails against the pernicious use of the term “natural” on various alcohol beverages.

In 2008, three of the five top-selling vodka companies in the U.S. had ad campaigns with fruit and positioned their products as fresh or all natural:  Absolut (2nd), Skyy (4th), and Stoli (5th). At least one other spirit, Finlandia vodka, also took advantage of the all-natural designation. … Skyy’s website, however, confirms that no actual fruit is used in the process. Because [TTB] has not defined the words “infusion” or “all-natural,” the company uses them freely.

I am having trouble comprehending whether AJ would be more happy if the same products were loaded up with artificial flavors instead. As Herman Cain might say, AJ is “incorrect” in saying TTB does not define terms like natural and all-natural. TTB has rigorous standards for terms such as these. TTB tests all flavors in all alcohol beverages — whether made within or without the US — to verify that they are natural. It is far from a rubber stamp regime. TTB maintains a laboratory staffed with more than a few specialized beverage and non-beverage chemists, to verify the assertions of the many specialized and sophisticated flavor companies that seek flavor approvals. In many instances, far from being a marketing gimmick, the law requires the use of natural flavors only (prime examples would be liqueurs and the flavored vodkas mentioned by AJ). To avoid the use of natural flavors in products like the flavored vodkas above would be in direct and flagrant conflict with federal laws in place since about the 1930s. This being the case, does AJ really think it’s a good idea to suppress this information? And on what grounds? AJ also suggests that the term “organic” should not be used on products that meet the rigorous standards to qualify as organic. AJ is long on casting aspersions and short on constructive suggestions in saying “marketers should not use the term ‘organic’ to imply an alcoholic beverage is healthful. Additional oversight by federal regulators is needed here, as well.”

See Part 2 of 2 in about a week


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Posted in:

alcohol beverages generally

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Santa’s Elixir

Most people assume TTB would be okay with the second word but not the first. Actually, it’s the other way around. The federal government is okay with Santa, but is not fond of his elixir.

TTB asserts, from time to time as the issue arises, that the term “elixir” ought not to be allowed, because it would tend to suggest that the alcohol beverage has medicinal properties. That’s a big no no.

Good old Webster does not really disagree, and defines the term as:  “a substance held capable of prolonging life indefinitely.” Hence there are very few “elixir” approvals after about 1999.

We don’t normally show the whole paper COLA in the space above. But the paper COLAs are getting fewer and fewer, as the bulk of labels are submitted via COLAs Online. The above is starting to look like a fondly remembered antique. This 1999 approval, for Santa’s Elixir wine specialty, is one of the oldest readily available in TTB’s Public COLA Registry, because it starts showing images in about 1999. Adding to this approval’s old school quaintness, I believe I see indications of a typewriter, a Xerox machine, and perhaps there is some Wite-Out lurking in the shadows.

I am writing this about a week before Christmas, but now that we’ve established that Santa will be okay, let me take this opportunity to wish happy holidays to Margie, Corianna, Sydney, Inci, Marguerite, Monica, Gary, Dave, Brittany, Keenan, John, Jaycee, Alyson, Jon, Meralyn, Vince and all friends of the firm far and wide.


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Posted in:

wine specialty

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