The beverage alcohol industry has never seen a category explosion quite as dramatic as the rise of hard seltzer. The category which was largely non-existent until 2018, grew by triple digits until 2020 and now represents a 7% share of total beverage alcohol, according to IRI.
Before making a move into this hot category, here are some facts to know about how hard seltzer is classified and regulated in the U.S.
Hard Seltzer Product Classification
It’s important to note the federal agency that regulates alcohol– the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or TTB–does not have a legal definition for hard seltzer, alcoholic seltzer, spiked seltzer, or hard sparkling water for that matter. The commonly used definition for hard seltzer comes from trade publications and data firms. This is where much of the confusion stems from.
As a result, hard seltzer products typically fall into two categories:
- Malt beverage – a product made with malted barley and hops
- Beer – a product made without malted barley and hops
These ingredients determine whether the product will technically be classified as a beer or a malt beverage. Beverages made with malted barley and hops are classified as both beer (by the Internal Revenue Code) and as malt beverages (by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act.)
Beverages that are not made with malted barley or hops are classified solely as beer. This includes products made from fermented sugar or malted barley without hops.
Malt Beverage Labeling Requirements
Malt beverage hard seltzers must receive a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) from the TTB.
The label submissions must contain a government health warning statement, a brand name, the type of product, the bottler name & address, net contents, alcohol content, and declaration of certain ingredients (ex. colorings, flavorings).
If any flavoring or coloring is added to the final product, a formula approval will also be required from the TTB. Most brewery products do fall into this category, according to the TTB.
Beer Labeling Requirements
Hard seltzers classified as beer do not need a COLA Approval from the TTB, but the label must follow FDA food labeling regulations. The label will still need the brewer’s name, net contents, type of product, place of production, and government health warning statement. Additionally, FDA labels typically require a nutrition facts panel and ingredients statements, which the TTB does not require.