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Buttered Popcorn . Flavored Vodka. In the same bottle. Speechless.

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, 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.

The Triple Sec Lobby

The highly secretive and powerful Triple Sec lobby has struck again — this time to require at least one drop of triple sec in certain alcohol beverages. Google it as much as you wish, and you will find little about this uber-secret institution, rumored to have strong ties leading all the way back to France . That’s because it’s secret. Some even say that Sen. John Kerry, with his thinly disguised sympathies for many things French , is Triple Sec’s man in Washington.

On a more serious note, for many years, TTB has required at least some triple sec in products that purport to be margaritas. The policy is here , at page 13 (scroll down to Margarita). The policy is in TTB’s “ Beverage Alcohol Manual ” for spirits. The BAM can be a handy resource to explain and supplement the regulations. Sometimes, as here, it goes considerably beyond what the law or regulations say. In this particular case, it seeks to mandate that every margarita must have:  “Tequila, triple sec and lime or lemon juice or oil or natural lime or lemon flavor.” Here is a recent example of TTB seeking to enforce the rule.

Does such a rule make any sense in this day and age of scarce resources? What is the worst that would happen if such a rule went away? Some may say the rule does not go far enough — and should similarly apply to malt beverages, wines, cocktails prepared at retail premises and even homes. If you have any doubt about the hushed-up threat presented by this rule (explaining how to make various cocktails), do not forget that the same rule also requires just a little bit of cream — or crème as some call it — in a Grasshopper or Pink Squirrel.

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.

Label Flexibility

TTB has been working on a new COLA form, with new and more flexible rules about what may change without seeking a new label approval. TTB announced this in the January 13, 2012 Newsletter and the Federal Register two weeks prior.

The new rules, if/when implemented, could allow a huge variety of big and small changes — without the need to submit, wait, haggle.

Here is the draft form . For example, the new rules (at page 3) would allow you to:

  1. Move mandatory around . This is at category 2. This would allow you to move VODKA from the bottom of the front label to the top of the front label, for example. It would not allow you to move VODKA from the front to the back. (The draft form does not seem to make it clear, about whether it’s also okay to reposition non-mandatory. It would be very strange if okay to move the important stuff but not the less important stuff.)
  2. Change colors . This is at category 3.
  3. Add/delete/change a QR code . This is at category 22.
  4. Add/delete/change social media icons . This is at category 25.
  5. Add/delete/change information about awards . This is at category 26. It remains a bad idea to announce  “Award for most antioxidants in a Cabernet.”
  6. Add/delete/change holiday/seasonal graphics/salutations . This is at category 27.
  7. Cover all sizes with one approval . This is at category 9. This could avoid the need for three separate COLAs — above 3 liters, below 237 ml., and in the middle (as on the current form at category 4).

All of this is in addition to the many other changes that have been allowed for years. For the sake of comparison, the 2011 form is here . Some of these are big changes and should help a lot. TTB’s comment period ended on February 27, 2012, but if you missed the boat or have an opinion, please set it forth below.

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