Jump to content

Vent about TTB here


Recommended Posts

I'm working on a short piece for Whiskey Advocate Magazine about how the TTB is over-burdened these days and mistakes are getting through. They are deluged with label applications and haven't been able to add personnel. I have made a contact with TTB and I would like to run specific incidents by them for comment. I started the ball rolling by asking how they could approve a label for "potato whiskey," a product of Boulder Distillery in Boulder, Colorado. Their rules prevent them from telling me how that was resolved or corrected, but they assure me it was.

Post your stories here if you want, but if you want to do it off-the-record, feel free to Private Message me. I have to know who you are but I won't identify you to the TTB.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just the fact that you got through to someone amazes me Chuck! I've been calling about the status of my permit modifications and no one has called back. (see my rant from yesterday in this same forum).

Guy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just the fact that you got through to someone amazes me Chuck! I've been calling about the status of my permit modifications and no one has called back. (see my rant from yesterday in this same forum).

Guy

I was having an email exchange with an assistant director about the 'potato whiskey' label and the public information guy called me. My sense is that they aren't apathetic, just overwhelmed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If a TTB agent falls in a forest but nobody is around to hear, does he make a sound?

I'm wondering if there even is such a thing as a mistakenly issued COLA. The only agency capable of finally deciding whether a label is appropriate or not is the TTB... so... if they issue a COLA doesn't that, by definition, mean that the label is ok? Isn't that the whole point of COLAs in the first place?

Obviously, the TTB can revoke a COLA, at which point the label would no longer be ok. But there again, the TTB are the only ones that can make that determination, and until such a determination is made, the label is approved, right?

Is there really this label-limbo where a label "shouldn't" have a COLA, yet does have a COLA? An interesting philosophical question...

It seems to me that a label is either approved or not approved. If it is, it's got a COLA. If it's not, it doesn't. I think that it would be innacurate to refer to a COLA as "mistakenly" issued until it has actually been revoked by the TTB (at which point it no longer exists anyway). The COLA for a label is itself sufficient evidence to contradict anyone (other than the TTB) who may want to say that some label is inappropriate.

If it is "mistakes" that you'd like to focus your article on, Cowdery, won't you have to stick with COLAs that have been revoked?

At any rate, I await your article expectantly. This is a very interesting subject and I'm looking forward to seeing the list of naughty COLAs that caught your attention.

Nick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nick, I don't think it's like breaking a law a physics - where you simply can't. Reality is. From time to time, measuring technology improves to the point where we can see small discrepancies and call it 'new physics'. But they were really there all along.

I've certainly seen COLAs that violate Beverage Manual rules. I called them (The TTB) on a sparkling cider that listed a vintage year and an American Viticultural Area appellation on the label. Neither off which are allowed on fruit wines. The agent I spoke with looked it up and said 'Ah, it was keyed into the database as a sparkling wine, rather than an apple wine, so the system would have brought up the wrong list of items for the reviewing agent to verify . No, we won't revoke it, and No, you can't have a label like it, just because that one got through.'

If that doesn't count as mistakenly issued, I don't know what does.

The flip side question is 'What do they (the TTB) do about it when they discover it?' That seems to be as hit and miss as the original mistake. I asked the agents at one of the compliance/education seminars about a dessert wine label COLA that I had that mentioned the use of spirits for fortification. A no-no, unless it's spirits of a different fruit - when it's mandatory. They said 'it would be nice if you turned it back in - but there's nothing we can do about it otherwise.'

But that's in direct contradiction to the stories we hear here of revoked COLAs (or have we heard them here??) Or the big news last year of one of the spiked energy drinks that had its COLAs revoked after policital pressure was applied.

The ways of God, Girls and Government are all mysterious, and it's not given to Man to understand them.

.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Every major producer reviews every COLA that's issued and if something doesn't look quite right, they make a complaint or, at least, submit an inquiry. TTB will review and correct as necessary. They will tell you the COLA was approved in error and you'll be obliged to comply. "But I printed a million labels because you said it was okay," won't get you very far.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And there are specific regulatations for allowing and handling runouts of labels, for when the TTB decides to let you use up the end of the lot, rather than forcing you to scrap the labels, and perhaps re-label. That's fine - exception handling is laid out.

But what does it take to trigger that? How big a player do you have to be to have your voice heard - and acted on? A complaint from little old me, about a fellow industry member using value marketing terms inappropriately has yielded zip. I've been told 'that was a mistake, and there's nothing we can do about it (except not repeating the mistake with you)' more than once.

Should complaints/inquiries go somewhere other than the ALFD?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You just gave me a great product idea, Charles! Schrödinger's Cat's Whiskey; the whiskey with a COLA that both is approved, and is not approved, at the same time and in the same respect.

So much for the law of non-contradiction. I always had this sneaking suspicion that the TTB was just a euphamism for a massive singularity beyond the event horizon of which the laws of the universe no longer applied. With those stories of yours, I now see that is actually the case.

I bet that if we give those guys at CERN a few more weeks, they'll smash a couple of protons together, identify the Higgs boson, and determine shortly thereafter that the set of basic principles upon which all physical laws are based is, in fact, the CFR of the United States of America.

Overwhelmed? I think not. The TTB are the only super-human beings capable of understanding the fundamental principles of our universe, and we mere mortals can only hope to stand in awe of their mighty understanding and abide by their divine, random, and variable dictates. And in their infinate mercy, all that they ask of us is that we regularly tithe into the collection plate as it is passed around...

Nick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And there are specific regulatations for allowing and handling runouts of labels, for when the TTB decides to let you use up the end of the lot, rather than forcing you to scrap the labels, and perhaps re-label. That's fine - exception handling is laid out.

But what does it take to trigger that? How big a player do you have to be to have your voice heard - and acted on? A complaint from little old me, about a fellow industry member using value marketing terms inappropriately has yielded zip. I've been told 'that was a mistake, and there's nothing we can do about it (except not repeating the mistake with you)' more than once.

Should complaints/inquiries go somewhere other than the ALFD?

I'm less significant than any of you, who are at least licensees. I made a 'to whom' complaint to the general information email address and heard back immediately from an assistant director in the ALFD. They later confirmed that it was investigated and corrected. Their rules didn't allow them to tell me any more than that but they wanted me to know it was dealt with. Then I asked to speak to someone in Public Intormation and got a callback in minutes.

That's what I want to know about, hinky stuff you know got approved. Look, I know most people don't like to 'tell,' but when you're trying to follow the rules and other people flout them, that puts you at a competitive disadvantage. And, believe me, the majors don't hesitate to complain. You have to protect your interests, just like you have to bite the bullet and take on legal expenses if you think someone is violating your trademark.

Edited by cowdery
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Last year I complained about a label for island808 vodka made by LeVecke Corp. in California. They pretend it's made in Hawaii, even had a neck hanger that said "product of Hawaii". They were forced to remove that in Hawaii since it violated state law, then removed it on the mainland as a result of legal action.

Anyway, I complained that their SOC was incorrect because it said "distilled from pineapple" when in fact it is a blend of GNS and pineapple neutral. I spoke to, emailed, and received a response from an investigator, who eventually told me he sent it to his supervisor for review and further action. Much later I was told that it had been taken care of but not given any specifics. They still have the same label.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's what I want to know about, hinky stuff you know got approved.

Are you only interested in spirits? I tend to watch cider - or rather, the place where cider and apple wine overlap, since <7%abv cider doesn't get/need a COLA.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Look, I know most people don't like to 'tell,' but when you're trying to follow the rules and other people flout them, that puts you at a competitive advantage [sic]. And, believe me, the majors don't hesitate to complain. You have to protect your interests, just like you have to bite the bullet and take on legal expenses if you think someone is violating your trademark.

I'm going to propose an alternate view to the "good vs. evil" distiller outlook, where "good" distillers are 100% perfectly informed about liquor laws and TTB regulations and always choose to follow them exactly, and "evil" distillers are also 100% perfectly informed about liquor laws and TTB regulations but knowingly and maliciously choose to violate them in a way that causes harm.

What if instead of the above dichotomy, all distillers were "good-intentioned". A good-intentioned distiller (whether he realizes it or not) is NOT 100% perfectly informed about liquor laws and TTB regulations. However, he makes EVERY EFFORT that he can to follow all laws and regulations that he is made aware of (by the TTB and his lawyers), and even goes so far as to speculate as to the intention behind the CFR's laws and the TTB's

regulations, and thereby follow the "spirit" of the laws and regulations, even if he may not be following them to the letter.

If you're a distiller who looks at yourself and thinks that you are a "good" distiller, I laugh at you. Nobody is 100% perfectly informed about liquor laws and TTB regulations, not even the TTB (as Cowdery will illustrate in his article). I find it hilarious that you think so highly of yourself. In fact, you're simply "good-intentioned".

If you're a distiller who looks at yourself and thinks that you're an "evil" distiller, I want nothing to do with you and I will do everything I can to eliminate you from our industry. There is absolutely zero room in this industry for anyone who is malicious. But I've never met such a distiller (though I've met plenty who think that they are the "good" type. They're so funny, aren't they?)

If you're a distiller who realizes that your personal knowledge of the CFR and applicable TTB regulations is limited to less-than-perfect, join the club. We rely on our lawyers, our TTB agents, and our own intuition to make decisions in our day-to-day operations, and we try to follow the law as best we can.

If you ever see me violating a law or TTB regulation, please let me know. I will be very appreciative and address any problems immediately. In due course, I'd be happy to return the favor, if I can.

If the first thing that I hear about some problem that you have with me and the way I conduct business is a TTB agent knocking at my door, I assure you, I will do my best to return that "favor" as well. I'm sure you'd appreciate it.

I think that it would do us all some good to realize that even if we, given our own limited understanding of the CFR and the TTB, think that someone else is in violation of some law or regulation, chances are that they believe they aren't breaking any laws, and perhaps they're even correct. The best course of action is to be open with them, and come to a better understanding of the law together. Maybe we even learn something about the law that we didn't know. And if it turns out that they're the malicious sort, F**K 'em.

Nick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are DSPs that flout the regulations, as cowdery says. Some of these have decades of experience and definitely understand the rules they are flouting. This is no different than any other business. To assume otherwise is naive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always apply Hanlon's Razor, and assume ignorance before villainy.

I'm more frustrated at the TTB's inconsistent application of the regs that I am at the inconsistent labels I've seen on possible competitors bottles. And even there, I don't think the TTB is a villian. At least out to a couple decimal places.

But how is one to improve one's systems without data? Say the TTB is developing automated aids to help with approval screening. Tools that pull up the pertainent regs and common pitfalls alongside the COLA for the reviewer. I've heard reviewers make comments that suggest this is done. I can spot two failure mode easy - the guides have holes in them, or the info originally entered into the database about the label/product is faulty. I know the latter happens - I see bad origin and product class/type codes on my own returned/approved COLAs.

If someone isn't will to call out mistakes by specific examples, how can the TTB improve? That's the end goal, isn't it? Improve the system, rather than hassle our peers?

At this point, I should live up to my own words and cough up some examples. <mumble/> whichi'llgettorealsoonnowyesofcourse </mumble>

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...