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TTB seeking comment on using ONLY 53G Barrels---the end of small distilling in america (?)

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please review bottom of post!

Reference Doc below

https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=TTB-2018-0007-0001

 

Notice No. 176: Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages

1. Subpart A—General Provisions

Proposed subpart A includes several sections that have general applicability to part 5, including a revised definitions section, a section that defines the territorial extent of the regulations, sections that set forth to whom and to which products the regulations in part 5 apply, a section that identifies other regulations that relate to part 5, and sections addressing administrative items such as forms and delegations of the Administrator.

Proposed § 5.1, which provides definitions of terms used in part 5, has some changes from the regulatory text that appears in current § 5.10. In addition to the proposed amendments discussed above in section II B of this document, TTB proposes to modify the definition of “age” to simplify it and to make clear that spirits are only aged when stored in or with oak. The wood contact creates chemical changes in the spirits, which is the aging process. Thus, for example, spirits stored in oak barrels lined with paraffin are not “aged.”

Additionally, TTB proposes to add a definition of “American proof,” which cross references the definition of “proof.” The term “American proof” is used in some circumstances to clarify that the proof listed on a certificate should be calculated using the standards in the part 5 regulations, not under another country's standards.

TTB proposes to amend the definition of “distilled spirits” to codify its longstanding position that products containing less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume are not regulated as “distilled spirits” under the FAA Act.

TTB also proposes to add a definition of “grain,” which would define the term to include cereal grains as well as the seeds of the pseudocereal grains: amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. TTB has received a number of applications for labels for products using pseudocereals, and TTB also notes that the FDA has proposed draft guidance allowing the seeds of pseudocereals to be identified as “whole grains” on labels (see 71 FR 8597, February 17, 2006).

Finally, TTB proposes to define the term “oak barrel,” which is used with regard to the storage of certain bulk spirits. TTB and its predecessor agencies have traditionally considered a “new oak container,” as used in the current regulations, to refer to a standard whiskey barrel of approximately 50 gallons capacity. Accordingly, TTB proposes to define an oak barrel as a “cylindrical oak drum of approximately 50 gallons capacity used to age bulk spirits.” However, TTB seeks comment on whether smaller barrels or non-cylindrical shaped barrels should be acceptable for storing distilled spirits where the standard of identity requires storage in oak barrels.

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Brian,

I think that you are misinterpreting the above.  I think that you have it backwards.

Currently the definition of an oak barrel (new oak container) is a "cylindrical oak drum of approximately 50 gallons capacity used to age bulk spirits", but they are seeking comments on whether small round and non cylindrical barrels  should also be considered oak barrels because currently they are not.  Looks to me like they are trying to accommodate craft distillers with the possibility of these changes.

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Paul, I don't believe that TTB has ever specified a size for the "oak container" required for aging. This proposal seems to be moving towards defining a big barrel (cylindrical and approximately 50 gallons) as the only acceptable "container". Currently a 1 gallon oak box could have been used if you could keep it from leaking. This definitely seems to be targeting small distilleries and alternative oak processes (i.e. the squarrel).

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It certainly seems as if TTB is trying to codify an assumption that they have held for decades. In this case, I think they should drop the assumption rather than codify it. Exploration of different types of barrels is one of the exciting changes that is occurring in the craft spirits movement. If the distillers who collectively have millions of dollars in inventory in smaller barrels can no longer label their bourbon as bourbon or rye whiskey as rye whiskey, then small distillers all over the nation will have a huge problem. Who would benefit from this change in the regs? People who have all their spirits laid down in standard barrels. 

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42 minutes ago, Huffy2k said:

Paul, I don't believe that TTB has ever specified a size for the "oak container" required for aging. This proposal seems to be moving towards defining a big barrel (cylindrical and approximately 50 gallons) as the only acceptable "container". Currently a 1 gallon oak box could have been used if you could keep it from leaking. This definitely seems to be targeting small distilleries and alternative oak processes (i.e. the squarrel).

In that case we should all send them our comments concerning the ongoing use of smaller barrels.  I am going to email them now.  I suggest that everyone else does the same.

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On 12/6/2018 at 2:03 PM, Huffy2k said:

Paul, I don't believe that TTB has ever specified a size for the "oak container" required for aging. This proposal seems to be moving towards defining a big barrel (cylindrical and approximately 50 gallons) as the only acceptable "container". Currently a 1 gallon oak box could have been used if you could keep it from leaking. This definitely seems to be targeting small distilleries and alternative oak processes (i.e. the squarrel).

That is also my take on it, the move to 50 gallons is to codify current large distillery practice. In correspondence, it would also be useful to note that today's "standard" 53 gallon barrel is not historical. It was established AFTER World War 2 to reduce costs. It was determined to be the largest barrel that could be accommodated in rack houses that used the previous "standard" whiskey barrel of 48 gallons. And in the 19th century there was really no standard at all, smaller barrels were often used.

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Brian,

Thank you for making the community aware of this.  It has a potentially devastating impact on small distilleries who can't afford to wait for the long aging cycle or to lay down so much whiskey at once.  To me, the intent of a barrel is to provide an environment for wood extraction, allowing for micro-oxygenation and concentration through angel's share. To legislate a barrel size and shape with the intent of maintaining some flavor profile or historical precedent really makes no sense to me as there are so many variables affecting flavor profiles and historical precedence would mean we would all have to use equipment like the most basic of pot stills, wooden fermentation tanks, etc.   There are so many possibilities in creatively using barrels of various sizes and shapes, it defies logic  to limit the distiller's options in an increasingly crowded market with ever demanding customers for that novel product.   

 

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On 12/11/2018 at 4:32 PM, Dmonahan said:

Brian,

Thank you for making the community aware of this.  It has a potentially devastating impact on small distilleries who can't afford to wait for the long aging cycle or to lay down so much whiskey at once.  To me, the intent of a barrel is to provide an environment for wood extraction, allowing for micro-oxygenation and concentration through angel's share. To legislate a barrel size and shape with the intent of maintaining some flavor profile or historical precedent really makes no sense to me as there are so many variables affecting flavor profiles and historical precedence would mean we would all have to use equipment like the most basic of pot stills, wooden fermentation tanks, etc.   There are so many possibilities in creatively using barrels of various sizes and shapes, it defies logic  to limit the distiller's options in an increasingly crowded market with ever demanding customers for that novel product.   

And if you DID care about HISTORICAL precedent, you would not restrict barrel size to larger than 50 gal. Only used after WWII. Prior common sizes included 48 gal "standard" barrel and 31 gal US beer barrel, and the early spirits barrel at 40 gal. And the earliest bourbon barrels may have been the smaller, narrow "blood" cask.

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I was looking further into the CFR changes, and I found this:

"Finally, TTB proposes to supersede Revenue Ruling 69-58, which deals with rules for age statements that have been incorporated in the regulations."

Which tells us absolutely nothing. 

Further digging found this:

Rev. Ruling 69-58

Advice has been requested whether under the provisions of 27 CFR 5.39(a), a storage statement is required on labels of a non-American type whisky which has been stored in reused cooperage for four years or more.

Under the provisions of 27 CFR 5.39(a), an age statement is optional in the case of straight whisky bottled under the Bottling in Bond Act of the United States and foreign or domestic whisky (whether or not mixed or blended but containing no neutral spirits) all of which is four years or more old.

The term "age" is defined in 27 CFR 5.10(j) as follows:

"Age. 'Age' means the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been kept in oak containers, charred if for a whisky of American type other than corn whisky, straight corn whisky, or a blend of straight corn whiskies. In the case of American type whiskies produced on or after July 1, 1936, other than corn whisky, straight corn whiskies, blended corn whisky, and blends of straight corn whisky 'age' means the period during which the whisky has been kept in charred new oak containers."

Under the above definition of age, non-American type whisky that has bee stored in oak containers (whether new or reused, charred or uncharred) for four years is four years old. Accordingly, in view of the provisions of 27 CFR 5.39(a) which makes an age statement optional in the case of whisky which is four years or more old, it has been concluded that no age statement of any kind is required to appear on the labels of non-American type whisky (not containing neutral spirits) stored four years or more in reused cooperage. However, if age is stated for such whisky, it must be in the form of a storage statement as required by the last paragraph of 27 CFR 5.39(a).

27 U.S.C. 205; 27 CFR 5.10 (27 CFR 5.11)

https://www.ttb.gov/rulings/69-58.htm

 

Here is the proposed change to the CFR:

 

§ 5.74

Statements of age, storage, and percentage.

(a) General. (1) As defined in § 5.1, age is the length of time during which, after distillation and before bottling, the distilled spirits have been stored in oak barrels in such a manner that chemical changes take place as a result of direct contact with the wood. For bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and straight whiskies other than straight corn whisky, aging must occur in charred new oak barrels.

(2) If an age statement is used, it is permissible to understate the age of a product, but overstatements of age are prohibited. However, the age statement may not conflict with the standard of identity, if aging is required as part of the standard of identity. For example, the standard of identity for straight rye whisky requires that the whisky be aged for a minimum of 2 years, so the age statement “Aged 1 year,” would be prohibited, even if the spirits were actually aged for more than 2 years, because it is inconsistent with the standard of identity.

(3) If spirits are aged in more than one oak barrel (for example, if a whisky is aged 2 years in a new charred oak barrel and then placed into a second new charred oak barrel for an additional 6 months,) only the time spent in the first barrel is counted towards the “age.”

 

There is a lot more to this new CFR, but I am checking to make sure that the above in red is a new proposed change and that this is currently not in the regulations for barrel aging.

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I think this is new and not really a desirable change.  My feeling is age is an indication to the consumer of time spent on wood, so the customer has a general expectation for the product. I do understand that the maturation process is different when moving the spirit to a new barrel, as opposed to a continuous barrel aging in a single barrel. But with age statements there are so many variables affecting the  maturation process, I'm not sure its fair or appropriate to single this one out.  What if you're in the second barrel for twice as long as the first, or if the first one was used and second one new (for a generic whiskey)?  If I set up a solera system, I don't think its fair to only count the time spent in the first barrel as the total age of the spirit and doesn't provide the customer with useful information as to the nature of the product.  For me this change just introduces more questions than simply making age a statement of time the spirit is stored in oak.

If you look at the FAQ below, it seems previously the time spent on oak was the determination of age:

From their FAQ https://www.ttb.gov/spirits/faq.shtml

What is the "age" of a whisky?
The TTB regulations at 27 CFR 5.11 define the term "age" to mean the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers. For bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and for straight whisky other than straight corn whisky, the "age" is the period during which the whisky has been stored in charred new oak containers.

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