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Distilled Spirits: Labelling and Distilled S the Certificate of Label Approval the Certific (COLA) in the U.S. (COLA) in t

As with many markets, the steps to As with man exporting your product has layers of exporting yo regulations and certifications that need to regu g lations an clear prior to your product hitting the retail cl c ear prior to y shelves. In this article, you will learn about sh s elves. In thi the process and requirements of distilled the process a spirits labelling for the U.S. market. spirits labelling Distilled spirits labelling must be compliant Distilled spirits with the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requirements, regulated under the U.S. Department of Treasury. There are both mandatory and non-mandatory elements to display in the product label as well as placement requirements and type sizes. There are number of mandatory and non-mandatory elements as outlined below.


BRAND NAME: It’s mandatory to display the brand name and this must appear on the brand label (the one displaying the alcohol content). If the distilled spirits are not sold under a brand name, then the name of the bottler, distiller, processor, or importer will be treated as the brand name if it is shown on the designated brand label. The brand name may not create a misleading impression. A brand name is misleading if, whether standing alone or in combination with other printed or graphic material, it creates a misleading or erroneous impression or inference as to the age, origin, identity or other characteristics of the distilled spirit. In some instances, qualifying the brand name with the word “brand” may be appropriate so that the brand name conveys no erroneous impression. Note that the class/type designation (e.g., “Rum”, “Bourbon” “Spiced Rum,” etc.), standing alone, may not be used as the brand name. Type size: Minimum 2 mm for containers larger than 187 mL; Minimum 1 mm for containers of 187 mL or less. The minimum type size applies to each numeral or letter in the statement, including both upper-case and lower-case letters.

FANCIFUL NAME: a fanciful name is a descriptive name or phrase used in addition to the brand name to further identify a product. It’s only required for Distilled Spirits Specialty (DSS – see below for more information) and it must appear on the brand label along with the statement of composition. The fanciful name may not mislead the consumer about the age, origin, identity, or other characteristics of the distilled spirits. An example of fanciful name would be “Captain John’s Spiced Rum” where “Captain John” is the brand name and “Spiced Rum” is the fanciful name.

CLASS/TYPE DESIGNATION: Distilled Spirits must be labelled with the class and/or type of distilled spirits (such as “Vodka” or “Chocolate Flavored Brandy,” in accordance with an established standard of identity). Distilled spirits that do not fit into one of the standards of identity are referred to as

“distilled spirits specialty” products and the fanciful name and statement of composition (e.g., “Spiced Rum, Rum with natural flavors added”) act as the designation on the label.

ALCOHOL CONTENT: The alcohol content is a numerical indication of the alcohol content of the distilled spirits stated in terms of percent alcohol by volume. In addition, the label may also state the alcohol content in degrees of proof if this information appears in direct conjunction (i.e., with no intervening material) with the statement expressed in percent-alcoholby-volume. If both forms of alcohol content are shown, the optional statement in degrees of proof shall be placed in parentheses, in brackets, or otherwise distinguished from the mandatory statement in percent-alcoholby-volume to emphasize the fact that both expressions of alcohol content mean the same thing. For example you can write: 20% alcohol by volume (40 proof). Therefore the acceptable formats are the following: “Alcohol ___ % by volume”; or “ ___% Alc. By Vol.” “ABV” is not allowed as an abbreviation of “alcohol by volume” in the mandatory alcohol content statement. Type Size: For containers with a capacity that is larger than 200 mL, the type size must be a minimum of 2 millimeters. For containers with a capacity of 200 mL or less, the type size must be a minimum of 1 millimeter.

NAME AND ADDRESS: The name and address (city and state) of the bottler, distiller, processor (rectifier), or importer must appear on the label. The name (or trade name) and address on the label must be identical to the name and address that appear on the bottler’s or importers basic permit; and you may not add words within the name and address statement as it is required to appear, except to use the additional, optional phrases authorized in the regulations. Type Size: Minimum 2 mm for containers larger than 200 mL; Minimum 1 mm for containers of 200 mL or less. The name and address statement is not required to be in all capital letters; however the minimum type size applies to each numeral or letter in the statement, including both upper-case and lower-case letters.

NET CONTENTS: The net contents statement indicates the volume of distilled spirits in the container (bottle) on which the label appears (on the front, back, or side of the container) and it should be expressed in Liters and Milliliters (ml). Moreover, One COLA may be used for additional bottle sizes. Net contents indicated on a label may be changed without applying for a new COLA. Type size: Minimum 2 mm for containers larger than 200mL, Minimum 1 mm for containers of 200mL or less.

HEALTH WARNING STATEMENT: By law, a specific health warning statement is required to appear on all alcohol beverages containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume. The warning statement may appear on the front label, back label, or side label, making sure it is separate and apart from all other information. The health statement is the following: GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems. The words “GOVERNMENT WARNING” must appear in capital letters and in bold type; the remainder of the statement may not appear in bold type. It must appear as a continuous paragraph.

GRAPHICS/PICTORIAL IMAGES: They are not mandatory; however, if displayed, they may appear on any label but they must not be misleading (they should not create a misleading impression). Moreover, Nonmandatory information, like graphics and images, may be deleted or repositioned without applying for a new COLA.


CONTENT LINKS: They are not mandatory and if included, they may appear on any label. However, they should be compliant with TTB’s alcoholic beverages advertisement regulations.


Labels frequently contain additional (optional) information that describes the distilled spirits or provides information relevant to the distilled spirits. Statements like “Raise your glass to toast the exotic taste of the spiced rum!” are an example of additional and optional information. This can be included but must be truthful, accurate, and specific, and it may not be misleading. It may also be deleted without applying for a new COLA.


UPC barcodes and bottle return information are not mandatory and may appear on any label. Moreover, they can be added, deleted, or changed on product labels without applying for a new COLA.


Importers of beer, wine and distilled spirits need to apply for a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA), and obtain the certificate prior to the importation of any product into the United States. The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the body responsible for reviewing and approving, or rejecting, every single wine, beer, or spirit label that appears on a bottle. A label application is therefore required to be submitted to, and approved by, the TTB prior to the product’s sale at market. The purpose of the COLA is to prohibit the use of misleading statements on labels and to make sure that consumers are provided with adequate information such as on the quality and identity of the beverage products. Mandatory information that must appear on the label is to be contained in either the brand label and/or back label based on statutory requirements and include the following (reference mandatory and nonmandatory summary for details): • The brand’s name (it may not be misleading as to the age, origin, identity, or other characteristics of the product) • The class and type (ex: class: whiskey, type: malt whiskey. In addition, this can include a designation of geographical or varietal significance such as an appellation of origin or grape type) • Alcohol content (this must be stated in terms of percentage of alcohol by volume, % ABV) • Net contents (ex: 750 ml, which is the most common net content statement) • Existence of any colouring, flavouring or additives used in the beverage • Health warning statement • Country of origin (if the product is imported) • Name and address of the bottler or importer of the spirit

The process is not always straightforward and can take some time. The TTB website estimates the processing time for COLA applications to be 35 days for distilled spirits labels, 25 days for wine labels and 17 days for beer labels. In addition, a label submitted to TTB often entails a lot of back and forth between the agency and the applicant, as well as corrections made to the label, before an approval is obtained. submission of a new COLA application to TTB. In addition, if you are sending products as samples or for trade shows purposes, you do not need to apply for the COLA. In such cases, you’ll be entitled to a COLA waiver.

Prior to applying for, or obtaining COLAs, the TTB must have issued a basic permit to a distilled spirits plant or importer applicant

Once the application has been received, its status can be updated to one of the following: received, assigned, in review, and hold for research. The TTB will send the applicant a notice in case the label requires any corrections or there are problems with the application. Applicants filing for label approval for the first time will need to provide a copy of their approved TTB permit along with their COLA application. The application can be submitted for free on TTB’s COLAs Online website and requires samples of the labels for which the applicant is seeking approval.

Once the label has been approved by the TTB, the label never expires unless specified; however, this is not common practice. Moreover, all approved labels are registered within 48 hours in the TTB’s COLA registry, which is public and therefore can be accessible by anyone.

It is also possible to bring some changes to approved labels without the need of notifying TTB and/or submitting a new application. Below are some of the allowed changes you can make to your label: • Graphics/pictorial images • Website address and other digital content links • Net contents • Additional (optional) information • UPC and bottle return information

For a complete list of allowable revisions to approved labels please see here. Any other changes made to labels, which are not included in that list, will require the Finally, you can submit your online application for the COLA, prior to the creation of an account, at the following website: www.ttbonline.gov/ttbonline. The application is free of charge.

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