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Frequently Asked Questions

Why on earth would anyone need a lawyer to do labels or formulas?

Good question. And so many reasons/answers:

  1. There are lots of rules (CFR, BAM, statutes, Rulings, state, foreign). You can use a lot of your time to learn the rules. Or you can pay a sometimes modest fee to somebody who already knows the rules and deals with them day in and day out. Or, perhaps most expensive of all, you can wing it.
  2. Many of those rules are subjective and in flux at all times. What is misleading? What is “direct conjunction”? What is obscene?
  3. A good 40% or more of labels get Needs Correction. Do you know how to avoid this? Do you know how or when to contest this? Because the rules are numerous, old, complicated, and subjective, TTB may advise you in a too-cautious way. It is often easier and safer for TTB to say no. How will you know when TTB is being too cautious or otherwise saying no, when yes is a distinct possibility?
  4. Labels and formulas can take a very long time, even if you are an expert. If you are not an expert, it will take even longer. With more than 50 years of daily and combined experience dealing with this specific agency/division, in many instances per day we are and should be able to avoid delays.
  5. You should devote your scarcest resource (time) to what you are best at. If it’s not making and marketing, you may be in trouble.
  6. Unlike most other consumer products under U.S. law, you are immobilized and blocked from all revenue opportunities until TTB sees fit to stamp your stuff as approved.
  7. Have you tried calling the label or formula sections recently? It can be tough sledding.

Why does it take so long?

Because TTB made it very easy to submit; perhaps too easy. The internet and COLAs Online were supposed to speed things up but (as is becoming obvious in hindsight) because these systems are free and easy, they have led to a flood of applications. TTB gets well more than 600 labels on a busy day, and well more than 125,000 labels in most years. Even though the Federal Government is enormous, it comes down to a few people that review formulas, and only about a dozen that review labels. There is basically one guy that does all the world’s beer labels, and 1-2 ladies that do all the world’s spirits labels. Note that only about 10% of these labels hit the market in any meaningful way, and yet they will just as surely jam up your path to the marketplace. The average processing times are here: labels, formulas, permits. In many cases, we can navigate these timelines in a quicker way.

Why is POA such a big deal?

Because TTB should not and will not talk to most people, about pending labels or formulas, unless and until it’s very clear that the person has clear rights to information about the matter. If you want to call TTB and say “how is it going with Diageo’s newest product,” it is clear that TTB should not say a peep to you. The same is true about somebody else calling about your product.

Will TTB keep my data confidential?

TTB has a very good record of keeping confidential matters confidential. During the course of more than 25 years, I can’t think of any big mistakes. In the olden days of paper, it’s true that a piece of paper would go in the wrong folder or envelope or fax machine from time to time. But this has been substantially cut back because computers are so good at avoiding mistakes of those sorts. It is often necessary to provide highly confidential information to TTB. What is more confidential or valuable than the recipe for a product like Kubler Absinthe or Chartreuse Liqueur? We are pleased to report that a great many other issues should keep you up at night, before this one does. If you want to get approved and sell in the U.S., you need to get over this issue. In some cases, an expert can help you structure the information so TTB will get all the information TTB needs, without you tipping more of your hand than is necessary.

Is it better to be right or lucky?

A little luck never hurt anything but it takes more than that. Let’s say you are Palcohol and “get lucky,” in that the formulas and labels somehow, against all odds, go through to approval. Now you are set to spend a boatload of money to produce, market and distribute. Then it comes crashing down. Yes Palcohol is an extreme example, but the same sorts of things do happen with great regularity. A more mundane example is, you wangle to get approval in 2013. You go back a year later with “a small change”/”easy label.” Perhaps you are solely changing the place where bottled. Now, TTB says the label is wrong. You (over)confidently declare that the label should be fine, because it’s been approved before, the change is minor, and lots of other companies do something similar. Right about now, an experienced person would expect TTB to say, thanks for showing us the other approvals, they may be wrong (or they are different) and thus the last thing we should do is perpetuate any such mistake. Now what? Templeton, Tito’s, Rutherford, SkinnyGirl, Bass, Beck’s all are testaments to the fact that TTB approval is an important step, but not the last step. Also, Pom made it clear that TTB is often a floor, not a ceiling, when it comes to putting out a compliant product.

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