One of the first hurdles in getting a brand to market in the U.S. is the Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) process. A COLA is required from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for any wine above 7% ABV and spirits or malts above 0.5% ABV.
The right label can be crucial to build the personality of an alcohol beverage brand, but unexpected feedback from the TTB can pull the rug out from under a brand owner. Before committing to the perfect brand name or stylish design, there are some common label mistakes that should be considered.
Failing to Meet the Standard Requirements
Each product type has certain mandatory information that is required on each label. For example, spirits require:
- A brand name
- Alcohol by volume also known as ABV
- Net content value or fill size
- Country of origin statement
- Importer statement
- A Government warning
If the label fails to include any of these items, the TTB is sure to reject it.
Branding Doesn’t Fit the Class/Type
If the brand has a class/type, such as vodka or whiskey in the title, it’s important to make sure the liquid qualifies under the definition of that class/type. It sounds simple, but the TTB can dish out some revision requests that require owners to retool their whole brand.
For example, let’s say a brand owner wants to submit a COLA for a red-colored gin called John’s Red Gin. By the TTB’s standards, the product would be classified as a Distilled Spirits Specialty product instead of a Gin due to the added coloring. As a result, the agency would likely request the brand owner remove the term “Gin” from the brand name.
This type of mistake can prove costly to brand owners and send them right back to the drawing board to come up with a new identity for their product. Leaving the class/type reference off the brand name is often the best approach to ensure a smoother application process.
References to the Word “Pure”
One common mistake we see at Park Street is that the word “pure” is not legally allowed to appear on bottles. The only listed exceptions for this rule are 1) if it is used in reference to a particular ingredient used in the production of the distilled spirits and is a truthful representation of that ingredient; or 2) it is part of the bona fide name of a permittee or retailer for whom the distilled spirits are bottled; or 3) it is part of the bona fide name of the permittee who bottled the distilled spirits.
Age Statements and Class/Types Aren’t Formatted Correctly
Formatting issues commonly lead to revision requests from the TTB, especially in regards to age statements and class/types. Age statements should be in the format of “Aged __ Years” and, if there is any age claim made in the descriptive text, there must be an age statement on the label to qualify it.
Additionally, certain class/types, such as Liqueurs, require a very specific formatting. “Liqueur” must be on its own line separate and apart from any surrounding text, but a reference to the base spirit can be made on the line underneath the classification in the format of “Made with (base spirit).” Therefore, “Liqueur with Whiskey” on one line would not be approved, but “Liqueur” on one line and “Made with Whiskey” beneath it would be permissible.
To verify which class/types have specific formatting, brand owners can refer to the TTB Guidelines on Class/Type for wine, spirits, and malt beverages.
Printed Labels Are Inconsistent with the Approved COLA
Once a label is approved by the TTB and ready for printing, the printed labels must match the one approved by the TTB. The TTB will keep an eye out to make sure no impermissible revisions are made. Marketing materials must also match the approved verbiage on a COLA. Brand owners may reach out to the TTB’s Market Compliance Team via their email address Market.Compliance@ttb.gov for a courtesy compliance check on the desired marketing material.