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Statements of Age for Whiskey

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Hey all, I'm hoping someone can clarify something for me. According to the BAM Section 13. Statements of Age, Page 1-14 (http://ttb.gov/spirits/bam/chapter1.pdf):

A statement of age is required for:
- All types of whisky aged less than 4 years
Seems pretty clear to me, but I personally have seen at least 3-4 instances (which means there are many more) of craft distillery labels where there is not a single statement of age on the bottle. You might say, "well they've aged it for more than 4 years", but the distilleries themselves have licenses that were granted less than four years ago.
Now, I know that the TTB is extremely inconsistent with their enforcement of the labeling requirements (many of them shouldn't pass if you take the requirements word-for-word), but it seems almost like this one isn't enforced at all. Am I missing something or reading something incorrectly here?
Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.

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One possibility is that those operations have purchased barrels of spirit from other distilleries.

The other, of course, is that they're omitting the required aging statement.

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You should burn the BAM handbook. It contains several outright errors.

All your regs come in the CFR's. That's the controlling language you need to follow.

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Agreed the BAM can be off at times, but in this case the CFR's concur.

I quote below the current CFR part 5.40 from the online CFR at

http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=0b1336cf26cbf0cd359ebd43d02b8706&rgn=div5&view=text&node=27:1.0.1.1.3&idno=27#27:1.0.1.1.3.3.25.1

It claims that the ONLY time it shall be optional to put an age statement on the bottle, it will be in the case that it is a straight whiskey over 4 yrs old.

It is mandatory for ALL other whiskies to have an age statement.

It is certainly weird that so many whiskies out there do not comply with this law and get away with it.

§5.40 Statements of age and percentage.

(a) Statements of age and percentage for whisky. In the case of straight whisky bottled in conformity with the bottled in bond labeling requirements and of domestic or foreign whisky, whether or not mixed or blended, all of which is 4 years old or more, statements of age and percentage are optional. As to all other whiskies there shall be stated the following:

(1) In the case of whisky, whether or not mixed or blended but containing no neutral spirits, the age of the youngest whisky. The age statement shall read substantially as follows: “___ years old.”

(2) In the case of whisky, containing neutral spirits, if any of the straight whisky and/or other whisky is less than 4 years old, the percentage by volume of straight whisky and/or other whisky, and the age of the straight whisky (the youngest if two or more) and the age of such other whisky (the youngest if two or more). If all the straight whisky and/or other whisky is 4 years or more old, the age and percentage statement for such whiskies is optional. The age and percentage statement for straight whiskies and/or other whisky, whether required or optional, shall be stated in immediate conjunction with the neutral spirits statement required by §5.39, and shall read substantially as follows:

(i) If only one straight whisky and no other whisky is contained in the blend: “__ percent straight whisky __ years old.”

(ii) If more than one straight whisky and no other whisky is contained in the blend: “__ percent straight whiskies __ years or more old.” The age blank shall be filled in with the age of the youngest straight whisky. In lieu of the foregoing, a statement may be made of the ages and percentages of each of the straight whiskies contained in the blend: “__ percent straight whisky __ years old, __ percent straight whisky __ years old, and __ percent straight whisky __ years old.”

(iii) If only one straight whisky and one other whisky is contained in the blend: “__ percent straight whisky __ years old, __ percent whisky __ years old.”

(iv) If more than one straight whisky and more than one other whisky is contained in the blend: “__ percent straight whiskies __ years or more old, __ percent whiskies __ years or more old.” The age blanks shall be filled in with the ages of the youngest straight whisky and the youngest other whisky. In lieu of the foregoing, a statement may be made of the ages and percentages of each of the straight whiskies and other whiskies contained in the blend: “__ percent straight whisky __ years old, __ percent straight whisky __ years old, __ percent whisky __ years old, and __ percent whisky __ years old.”

(3) In the case of imported whiskies described in §5.22(l), Class 12, the labels shall state the ages and percentages in the same manner and form as is required for the same type of whisky produced in the United States.

(4) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this paragraph, in the case of whisky produced in the United States and stored in reused oak containers, except for corn whisky, and for light whisky produced on or after January 26, 1968, there shall be stated in lieu of the words “__ years old” the period of storage in reused oak containers as follows: “__ stored __ years in reused cooperage.”

(5) Optional age statements shall appear in the same form as required age statements.

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Thanks for feedback everyone. I guess we'll just play it on the safe side and follow what the CFRs say, even though it seems like they are especially inconsistent on the enforcement of it.

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Thanks for feedback everyone. I guess we'll just play it on the safe side and follow what the CFRs say, even though it seems like they are especially inconsistent on the enforcement of it.

When applying for a label, the applicant must agree that:

"Under the penalties of perjury, I declare: that all the statements appearing on this application are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief; and, that the representations on the labels attached to this form, including supplemental documents, truly and correctly represent the content of the containers to which these labels will be applied. I also certify that I have read, understood and complied with the conditions and instructions which are attached to an original TTB F 5100.31. Certificate/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval."

If the whiskey label has no age statement, then the bottler has, under penalties of perjury, declared to the TTB that the whiskey is over four years old.

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If you don't want to state a specific age, you could just say "aged less than 4 years." I've seen this usage on approved COLAs.

By the way, what's up with your continuous still? I never heard back from you on my last email.

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The rules concerning statements of age are among those that seem, when you start reading them, to go on forever. They occur alongside rules that apply to the statements about the percentage of neutral spirits that are in a blend. For the sake of clarity, if not sanity, I will strike all references to percentages in the following discussion. Further, I’ll wipe from the slate any references to blended whiskey at all. I’ll also knock out references to bottled in bond labeling and to imported whiskey. Those eliminations make understanding §5.40 a bit easier. I’ll quote the regulations without indicating anything has been dropped.

The first rule is that statements of age are optional on whiskey that is four years old or more. Unless a whiskey is four years old or more, you must make a statement of age. There is no option.

The age of the youngest whiskey in the mix or blend (remember, we are not talking about whiskey that contains neutral spirits) is the age of the spirit. Mix 999 gallons of whiskey that are 12 years old and one gallon of whiskey that is three years old, and the whole 1000 gallons is declared to be three years old.

The statement of age that must appear on the label “shall” – remember “shall” means it must - read substantially as follows” “ ___ years old.” There is absolutely no provision here for a statement of the sort, “Aged less than four years,” as some have suggested. If TTB accepts the latter, then it does. But that is not the way the rules are written. Any wiggle room comes from TTB’s practice, not its requirements.

Stripping out the various provisions for blends, that is pretty much the whole shebang. Age it less than four years and you have to state the age; age it four years or more and stating the age is optional.

One question remains, “What is age?”

For this, we must look to TTB’s definitions in §5.11, where we find that, as used in Part 5, age has a particular meaning that changes with the type of whiskey to which we apply it. In fact, some whiskey acquires no age at all - and I’m not referring to those “unaged” whiskey, whose existence depends on TTB’s penchant for ignoring the requirements of its own regulations

Let’s be clear about that point. Whiskey is, by class standards, “an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky, stored in oak containers (except that corn whisky need not be so stored), and bottled at not less than 80° proof.

Again, let’s throw corn whiskey out of this discussion, because it is that annoying exception that proves (in the sense of tests) the rule. We will pretend that no such thing as corn whiskey exists. Then, if we want to make a “corn whiskey,” we can revisit the regulations and examine the whole separate set of rules for corn whiskey without getting snarled with the rules that apply for every other kind of whiskey.

So, throwing out corn, here is the rule. All whiskey is stored in oak containers.

Many make much of the fact that the regulations do not require a specified period of storage. They like to tout a seemingly clever interpretation, stating that this means that 30 seconds in oak suffices. Everyone who touts that, or similar rules, ignores the requirement that whatever emerges from the storage must possess “the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey.” From the labels one sees, TTB must be among those who ignore the “characteristics” rule. But here I am dealing with what the regulations require, not with what TTB allows in practice. Indeed, the requirement that you state age in the form “___ years old,” implies that TTB anticipates, by rule if not practice, some substantial time in oak.

I am not arguing that this makes any sense. The arguments that lead to the definition took place long ago, when different segments of the industry – those who made whiskey by rectification and those who did so by storing in oak - sought to turn the regulations to their advantage.

Note that the standard for whiskey says that it must be “stored in oak.” It does not "aged in oak,“ or even that it must be aged at all. The terms “age” and “store” have different meanings. Any time a whiskey goes into oak, it is stored. However, the definition of “age” gets tangled with the standards of identity for the different products. Again, to make it more easily understood, some parsing is in order. Age means:

The period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers.

Now, this is misleading because the definition uses the general term “distilled spirits,” from which one might conclude that any spirit may acquire age as a result of its being stored in oak. I’m trying to avoid detours into things other than whiskey, but I don’t want to leave open so wide a door to misunderstanding. Some spirits, other than whiskey, do acquire age, as TTB choses to use the term, but not all spirits do. Here is the complete picture, derived from §5.40:

( B) Statements of age for rum, brandy, and Tequila. Age may, but need not, be stated on labels of rums, brandies, and Tequila, except that an appropriate statement with respect to age shall appear on the brand label in case of brandy (other than immature brandies and fruit brandies which are not customarily stored in oak containers) not stored in oak containers for a period of at least 2 years. If age is stated, it shall be substantially as follows: “__ years old”; the blank to be filled in with the age of the youngest distilled spirits in the product.

© Statement of storage for grain spirits. In case of grain spirits, the period of storage in oak containers may be stated in immediate conjunction with the required percentage statement; for example, “__% grain spirits stored __ years in oak containers.” I will not again comment that aged gin is becoming so common that some competitions even have it as a class for which they make awards.

Let’s get back to whiskey. As I said, the meaning of the term “age” gets entangled with the standards of identity. For those who may be familiar with the battles over the definition of whiskey, first in 1906 and then again in 1935-1937 and finally in 1968, the term “age” gets entangled with the difference between “American type” whiskeys, e.g. bourbon, wheat, rye and malt whiskies, which were held to have the characteristics of whiskey aged in new charred oak, and other whiskey, e.g., Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskeys, which were held to have characteristics of whiskeys aged in reused oak barrels. Thus, when we parse the definition of age, we find that:

For spirits of the class whiskey, which are not further designated as a type if whiskey, age means the period of time spent in oak.

For American type whiskeys, i.e. those labeled bourbon, wheat, rye or malt, “age” means the period of time these whiskeys were stored in charred new oak containers.

For whiskey made in the United States, in the manner of whiskeys other than American type whiskeys, that is, whiskeys stored in reused oak, and labeled with the designation, whiskey distilled from bourbon, wheat, rye, or malt mash, no statement of age is allowed. Changes to the regulations in 1968 allowed a different form of statement. §5.40(a)(4) provides that, “in the case of whisky produced in the United States and stored in reused oak containers, except for corn whisky, and for light whisky produced on or after January 26, 1968, there shall be stated in lieu of the words “__ years old” the period of storage in reused oak containers as follows: “__ stored __ years in reused cooperage.”

So there you have the requirements for the statement of “age” as best I can distill them into something understandable.

I am working on an article that will describe, in some detail, how these requirements were spawned. Although they were advanced in the guise of rules designed to protect the consumer, I think it is obvious from the twists and turns of the regulation, that few consumers have any notion of the difference between Malt Whiskey and Whiskey Distilled from Malt Mash, or the charred new oak vs. reused oak distinctions, or even oak vs. maple, for that matter. These rules reflect established distillers fighting over market and government bureaucracies attempting to secure their turf as regulators.

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dhdunbar, thanks for the excellent writeup and looking forward to the article!

When applying for a label, the applicant must agree that:

"Under the penalties of perjury, I declare: that all the statements appearing on this application are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief; and, that the representations on the labels attached to this form, including supplemental documents, truly and correctly represent the content of the containers to which these labels will be applied. I also certify that I have read, understood and complied with the conditions and instructions which are attached to an original TTB F 5100.31. Certificate/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval."

If the whiskey label has no age statement, then the bottler has, under penalties of perjury, declared to the TTB that the whiskey is over four years old.

"to the best of my knowledge and belief" — that's the part that might save someone, since my knowledge appears to "completely confused" like many others :D

By the way, what's up with your continuous still? I never heard back from you on my last email.

Sorry for not getting back Jedd, it's been difficult keeping up with everyone. The development of the still is ongoing, but business at the distillery has gotten in the way of being able to spend much time on turning it into a product. Did you see my update I posted about a month ago? http://adiforums.com/index.php?showtopic=3559&p=27244.

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On 6/30/2014 at 9:59 PM, dhdunbar said:

The rules concerning statements of age are among those that seem, when you start reading them, to go on forever. They occur alongside rules that apply to the statements about the percentage of neutral spirits that are in a blend. For the sake of clarity, if not sanity, I will strike all references to percentages in the following discussion. Further, I’ll wipe from the slate any references to blended whiskey at all. I’ll also knock out references to bottled in bond labeling and to imported whiskey. Those eliminations make understanding §5.40 a bit easier. I’ll quote the regulations without indicating anything has been dropped.

The first rule is that statements of age are optional on whiskey that is four years old or more. Unless a whiskey is four years old or more, you must make a statement of age. There is no option.

The age of the youngest whiskey in the mix or blend (remember, we are not talking about whiskey that contains neutral spirits) is the age of the spirit. Mix 999 gallons of whiskey that are 12 years old and one gallon of whiskey that is three years old, and the whole 1000 gallons is declared to be three years old.

The statement of age that must appear on the label “shall” – remember “shall” means it must - read substantially as follows” “ ___ years old.” There is absolutely no provision here for a statement of the sort, “Aged less than four years,” as some have suggested. If TTB accepts the latter, then it does. But that is not the way the rules are written. Any wiggle room comes from TTB’s practice, not its requirements.

Stripping out the various provisions for blends, that is pretty much the whole shebang. Age it less than four years and you have to state the age; age it four years or more and stating the age is optional.

One question remains, “What is age?”

For this, we must look to TTB’s definitions in §5.11, where we find that, as used in Part 5, age has a particular meaning that changes with the type of whiskey to which we apply it. In fact, some whiskey acquires no age at all - and I’m not referring to those “unaged” whiskey, whose existence depends on TTB’s penchant for ignoring the requirements of its own regulations

Let’s be clear about that point. Whiskey is, by class standards, “an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky, stored in oak containers (except that corn whisky need not be so stored), and bottled at not less than 80° proof.

Again, let’s throw corn whiskey out of this discussion, because it is that annoying exception that proves (in the sense of tests) the rule. We will pretend that no such thing as corn whiskey exists. Then, if we want to make a “corn whiskey,” we can revisit the regulations and examine the whole separate set of rules for corn whiskey without getting snarled with the rules that apply for every other kind of whiskey.

 

So, throwing out corn, here is the rule. All whiskey is stored in oak containers.

Many make much of the fact that the regulations do not require a specified period of storage. They like to tout a seemingly clever interpretation, stating that this means that 30 seconds in oak suffices. Everyone who touts that, or similar rules, ignores the requirement that whatever emerges from the storage must possess “the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey.” From the labels one sees, TTB must be among those who ignore the “characteristics” rule. But here I am dealing with what the regulations require, not with what TTB allows in practice. Indeed, the requirement that you state age in the form “___ years old,” implies that TTB anticipates, by rule if not practice, some substantial time in oak.

 

I am not arguing that this makes any sense. The arguments that lead to the definition took place long ago, when different segments of the industry – those who made whiskey by rectification and those who did so by storing in oak - sought to turn the regulations to their advantage.

Note that the standard for whiskey says that it must be “stored in oak.” It does not "aged in oak,“ or even that it must be aged at all. The terms “age” and “store” have different meanings. Any time a whiskey goes into oak, it is stored. However, the definition of “age” gets tangled with the standards of identity for the different products. Again, to make it more easily understood, some parsing is in order. Age means:

The period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers.

Now, this is misleading because the definition uses the general term “distilled spirits,” from which one might conclude that any spirit may acquire age as a result of its being stored in oak. I’m trying to avoid detours into things other than whiskey, but I don’t want to leave open so wide a door to misunderstanding. Some spirits, other than whiskey, do acquire age, as TTB choses to use the term, but not all spirits do. Here is the complete picture, derived from §5.40:

( B) Statements of age for rum, brandy, and Tequila. Age may, but need not, be stated on labels of rums, brandies, and Tequila, except that an appropriate statement with respect to age shall appear on the brand label in case of brandy (other than immature brandies and fruit brandies which are not customarily stored in oak containers) not stored in oak containers for a period of at least 2 years. If age is stated, it shall be substantially as follows: “__ years old”; the blank to be filled in with the age of the youngest distilled spirits in the product.

© Statement of storage for grain spirits. In case of grain spirits, the period of storage in oak containers may be stated in immediate conjunction with the required percentage statement; for example, “__% grain spirits stored __ years in oak containers.” I will not again comment that aged gin is becoming so common that some competitions even have it as a class for which they make awards.

Let’s get back to whiskey. As I said, the meaning of the term “age” gets entangled with the standards of identity. For those who may be familiar with the battles over the definition of whiskey, first in 1906 and then again in 1935-1937 and finally in 1968, the term “age” gets entangled with the difference between “American type” whiskeys, e.g. bourbon, wheat, rye and malt whiskies, which were held to have the characteristics of whiskey aged in new charred oak, and other whiskey, e.g., Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskeys, which were held to have characteristics of whiskeys aged in reused oak barrels. Thus, when we parse the definition of age, we find that:

For spirits of the class whiskey, which are not further designated as a type if whiskey, age means the period of time spent in oak.

For American type whiskeys, i.e. those labeled bourbon, wheat, rye or malt, “age” means the period of time these whiskeys were stored in charred new oak containers.

For whiskey made in the United States, in the manner of whiskeys other than American type whiskeys, that is, whiskeys stored in reused oak, and labeled with the designation, whiskey distilled from bourbon, wheat, rye, or malt mash, no statement of age is allowed. Changes to the regulations in 1968 allowed a different form of statement. §5.40(a)(4) provides that, “in the case of whisky produced in the United States and stored in reused oak containers, except for corn whisky, and for light whisky produced on or after January 26, 1968, there shall be stated in lieu of the words “__ years old” the period of storage in reused oak containers as follows: “__ stored __ years in reused cooperage.”

So there you have the requirements for the statement of “age” as best I can distill them into something understandable.

 

I am working on an article that will describe, in some detail, how these requirements were spawned. Although they were advanced in the guise of rules designed to protect the consumer, I think it is obvious from the twists and turns of the regulation, that few consumers have any notion of the difference between Malt Whiskey and Whiskey Distilled from Malt Mash, or the charred new oak vs. reused oak distinctions, or even oak vs. maple, for that matter. These rules reflect established distillers fighting over market and government bureaucracies attempting to secure their turf as regulators.

Once again I have found the answer to a very specific question by searching through the Forum Archives... Thank you dhdunbar!

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