Note: Details on what constitutes a formula was taken from John D. Messinger's article "Formulas 101 for Distilleries" in the February-March 2016 issue of Beverage Master. The full article is available here.
When Do I Need a Formula for Distilled Spirits?
TTB formula approval is required before a distiller may blend, compound or otherwise treat spirits in such a way that results in a “change of character, composition, class or type.” For example, adding sugar (at least 2.5% by weight of the finished product), natural flavors and water to neutral spirits to create a liqueur changes the character, composition, class or type of the neutral spirits.
Formula approval is also required to produce a distilled spirit specialty product (DSS). The distilled spirit specialty category covers any products not defined by TTB’s standards of identity for distilled spirits (27 CFR 5.22). For example, a “moonshine” distilled from a mash of corn and cane sugar is considered a DSS product because it does not fit into any TTB defined class or type of distilled spirits.
List of Common Distillery Operations Which Change the Character, Composition, Class, or Type of Spirit (complete list at 27 CFR 5.27)
- Adding coloring, flavoring, wine, or other material to compound spirits
- Steeping/soaking fruits, berries, aromatic herbs, roots, seeds, etc. in spirits
- Blending spirits stored in charred barrels with spirits stored in new or used barrels
- Producing gin by redistilling neutral spirits with/over juniper berries and botanicals, or by mixing gin with other spirits
- Artificially carbonating spirits
- Use of any physical/chemical process to accelerate maturation of spirits
Author’s Note: On December 17, 2015, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published TTB Ruling 2015-1, which added approximately 50 new ingredients to the list of traditional ingredients and processes used in the production of beer or malt beverages not subject to formula requirements. The new list can be accessed at http://www.ttb.gov/rulings/ttb-ruling-2015-1-attachment-1.pdf
John D. Messinger is an alcohol beverage attorney at Lehrman Beverage Law, PLLC. He is an avid craft beer and spirits enthusiast, and regularly assists breweries, distilleries and wineries with federal advertising, labeling, formulation and licensing issues.