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Art Libertucci

Find out more about how TTB and federal agencies really work, in this discussion with Art Libertucci, from the Summer 2017 issue of Artisan Spirit magazine. Art ran TTB for many years, and had a long career in ATF before that. He has a huge amount of experience when it comes to alcohol beverages, rules, taxes, Washington, and so on.

Here as an excerpt, where Art describes the beginning of this journey.

I started my government career as an Inspector for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the IRS. At that time, neither ATF nor TTB existed as separate bureaus. The regulation of alcohol and tobacco products and their taxation were the responsibility of the IRS. I applied for the job after a friend told me about how he was taking an exam for jobs in the federal government. I had been drafted back then in 1969 (I was a draft lottery pick) and that day I was sent home after reporting for duty, having failed my physical exam. My friend told me he was taking the job exam that Saturday and I should go with him and take the test. At that time, taking the test was done at the post office and on a walk in basis. I took the test and received scores a month later. I received my first job offer from ATF, to become an Inspector. I interviewed for the job, was offered a position in Boston, but it was later rescinded due to a sudden federal job freeze. A week later I was called and asked if I would consider the same position in New York City, where they had been given a job freeze exemption. I took the offer and started my career on March 17th, 1970 in New York.

If my math is correct this gives Art 47 years (and counting) of experience, watching the alcohol beverage business from a front row seat.

Vive la révolution

Well, we may have only one retailer in the near future — AmazonWholeFoods. But we sure have a lot of beer to choose from.

This jumped out at me when looking at beer approvals from a recent 10 day period in 2017. I saw no less than 720 new brands/approvals — just for beer — in this small and recent time period. Most of them seem like just about the opposite of Budweiser and Coors.

By contrast, I looked at the same 10 day period, 10 years prior. The landscape is altogether different. In the 2007 period I see a relatively puny 175 approvals. The overwhelming preponderance of those labels are from big or very big companies:  Miller, A-B, Sam Adams.*

In the 2017 period I see almost no mega-brews. If this is not a revolution, it seems to be a radical change at least, in just half a generation or less. Amazon has well proven they can stock and sell a lot of books and other SKUs, without losing a bunch of money. Let’s see how they do with a few hundred thousand beers.

Powdered Alcohol is Not Dead

Just when we least expected it, here is another version of powdered alcohol. It got approved a couple weeks ago, after grinding through the process for a good long while (six months or more). Many thanks to an astute reader for pointing this out to us. The label raises a boatload of legal issues. Before wading into those issues, I’d like to ask who has seen powdered alcohol out in the wild, at retail? Who has tried it? The product is Lieutenant Blender’s Cheat-A-Rita, from a distillery in Texas. Much more coverage, of powdered alcohol and Palcohol, is here.

Gluten

We wanted to check in and see what’s been happening with gluten claims, in connection with alcohol beverages. LabelVision data shows virtually no references to gluten until 2012. Then, TTB approved the first label with a nice, clear reference to “gluten free.” That label is below (potato vodka, brand name Spud). After rapid growth, from 212 to 2016, the gluten references seem to be leveling off, so far in 2017, at about 2016 levels. TTB’s policy is here (TTB Ruling 2014-2, Revised Interim Policy on Gluten Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages).

Ginger Tonic from Gallo

If I recall right, TTB did not allow terms like “Tonic” or “Elixir” for many decades. This Thunderbird label, however, clearly shows that “Tonic” is okay these days. Way back, it apparently sounded far too close to a curative claim, as did “elixir.” TTB approved the above label on April 7th.

This label also seems noteworthy because it marks a return of Thunderbird, as an important brand, after almost 10 years without any approval within the TTB database. The new version of Thunderbird is a malt beverage with natural flavors. This is not easy to see. Can you spot the class/type statement off toward the upper right? Before the approval above, and two other versions, Thunderbird last appeared in the TTB database way back in 2008; then and since the 1950s, it was a flavored wine. This article has a lot of history about this important brand and suggests that U.S. law did not allow flavors in wine, until the dawn of this brand. This is yet another example of how brand names have jumped from one category to another, like Smirnoff jumping from spirits to malt beverages more than 16 years ago now.

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