Earlier this year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) clarified that neither a certificate of label approval (COLA) or a certificate of exemption is required for malt beverages that will not be shipped or delivered for sale or shipment into another state.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that if you plan to distribute your product only within your home state that you are automatically exempt.  Many states still rely on, and default to, the federal regulations and require TTB label approval.  Nor does it mean that it’s not best to seek label approval if you are in a state that does not require it.  This can however, play a role in the timing of when you may seek label approval.  For example, if you want to get a product on tap in your state quickly without waiting for label approval but you also want to check your trademark options for the name and logo to appear on the label, you may wish to put the COLA process on hold until you receive confirmation that the name and logo are likely to acquire trademark protection.  Ultimately, the decision will hinge upon your individual plans, circumstances and location.

A number of states’ rules may leave brewers wondering if TTB label approval is required.  For example, Section 28-3A-6(c) of the Alabama Code requires that “[e]ach manufacturer licensee shall be required to file with the board, prior to making any sales in Alabama a list of its labels to be sold in Alabama and shall file with the board its federal certificate of label approvals or its certificates of exemption as required by the U. S. Treasury Department.”  While it seems to require that Alabama brewers submit a federal label approval before making any sales, one could argue that the end of the sentence only requires the label approval if it is also required by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Arizona also requires bottles to be “labeled in conformity with all federal requirements.”  Again, one could argue that federal requirements don’t require label approval if the product is only sold within the state.  Granted, it may be more likely that Arizona, and many other states, are just expressing their preference that brewers receive federal label approval before making any sales within their borders.  In essence, it seems many states would prefer to adopt and substitute the TTB’s requirements as their own.  Without further clarification, however, many state rules leave brewers wondering what is required.

Illinois’ administrative code adopts the federal labeling regulations and is clear that “[n]o manufacturer, nonresident dealer, distributor or importing distributor shall affix any label to any package or container containing alcoholic liquor for sale or delivery in the State of Illinois until such label has been submitted to and approved by the federal government.”

Minnesota’s brand label registration form requires the applicant to staple a copy of the federal label approval form with each brand label application.  North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Utah  are among other states that require COLAs to be attached to the states’ brand label applications.  While New Jersey applicants aren’t required to attach COLAs to their brand registration applications, they must certify that they could be produced within forty-eight hours upon request.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, however, provides a helpful note on its most recent application for label approval.  It notes that “[a] legible copy of the Federal COLA issued by the Department of Treasury must accompany this application” but clarifies that “[a] Federal COLA  is not required for product brewed in Texas and only sold in this state (TTB Ruling 2013-1).”  Florida’s form similarly notes that COLAs should only be attached if appropriate.

Other states also add their own requirements to ensure accurate labels.  For example, California’s Form ABC578 notes that TTB label approval doesn’t ensure label approval in California because the city of manufacture must be printed on the product label according to California’s rules.

As a result of these regulations, it is necessary that brewers check with their individual states to ensure compliance.  In many cases, it is likely best to apply for COLAs with the goal of having your product reach other states.

Click here for a directory of alcoholic beverage agencies by state for further information:

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Delaware

Washington, D.C.

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

More from the Brewers Association on label approval:

http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/label-approval-guidance