Over the last couple of days, we’ve been talking about beer labels—why they don’t always have to include information like ABV, serving size, calorie content, and the like, and also explaining why and how you can still legally volunteer this sort of information. If you’ve missed Parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series, take a sec and get up to speed. When you’re ready, cruise along to today’s final part down below, where we share our thoughts about why, even though you totally can include this kind of information on your labels, you might think twice before you do.
Part 3. Volunteering Information. Even Though You Can, You Might Not Want to Do It.
Now you know that if you want to include extra information on your beer labels like ABV and nutrition facts, TTB won’t get in your way—and if you do it in certain pre-approved ways, you won’t even have to get another COLA. It’s worth noting, though, that just because you can disclose this kind of information, you’ll want to carefully think about whether or not you ultimately do. Along with issuing its ruling approving the practice, TTB cautioned that this sort of voluntary information has to be “[t]ruthful, accurate, and specific.” Actually, though, this requirement of accuracy in “extra” disclosure has pretty much been the case since 1995, where the United States Supreme Court let us know that the First Amendment protected truthful, verifiable numerical statements about alcohol content. Chalk that Supreme Court case and its reasoning up to the dweeb-worthy category again, but it’s worth lingering on for just a second.
We’ve all often heard the saying along the lines of”it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission,” but here, that old wisdom doesn’t really apply. Because TTB has given you carefully controlled permission, before you decide to stick ABV or other specific information on your beer labels, you’ll want to make sure that the number you land on is absolutely truthful and verifiable. We don’t know any intentionally dishonest brewers, but it stands to mention that even if you’ve brewed a few test batches and your numbers have been spot on, it would serve you well, and keep you within the law, to double-check these sorts of things before you revise your COLA. And, keep in mind, if your brews fluctuate from batch to batch, you’ll want to make sure your current label is always compliant, to keep you solid under the law. Even though you don’t have to get a new COLA to add this information to your existing labeled brews, the question remains open whether you can make midstream changes to update this sort of information once you disclose it on an existing COLA, or whether you need to get a completely new label approval from TTB.
We’re all for putting out useful information to consumers, and definitely understand why brewers might want to get this info in front of would-be buyers facing a fully stocked shelf of goodness. So, if you’re sure, go for it. Still, even though the beer label has its merits as a tool for communication, given the penalties you can get hit with for falling out of line, we find that some of that voluntary information just might be better left to places TTB and FDA don’t hold a stick, such as the taproom, Untappd, and the like. Technically, though, TTB’s reach (and, thus, its accuracy requirement) extends to all the places you advertise your beers. However, it’s far easier and definitely more cost effective to update your website or chalkboard with batch-to-batch information, versus applying for a new COLA. As we mentioned yesterday, mandatory label disclosure of this sort of information might be coming down the pike soon, but we’re not there yet (and, cheers to that!).