We are ready to announce that our team of counsel will be joining forces with the firm of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, LLP (MNG&D). Our alliance provides the clients of Reiser Legal with affordable access to the Northwest’s most fully-equipped beverage law practice.
This combination of resources ensures that our clients don’t have to go out-of-house to seek additional legal services. This means that you will now have access to first-rate assistance in many additional areas, including securities regulation, employment relations, tax, real estate financing and leasing, import/export, and the full range of federal and state litigation.
As craft-oriented legal counsel, we have developed close relationships with each of our clients. The Reiser Legal team talked with many firms in an effort to find the best marriage of craft beverage ideals and high-quality legal services. We found those traits in Paul Havel, head of the craft beverage law division at MNG&D – and we can’t wait to introduce Paul and his team of experienced beverage attorneys.
If you are interested in working with our team, please email us or call us at 503.205.2596. We hope you are as excited as we about this new alliance!
My fascination with kombucha started in the kitchen, as I raised my first SCOBY from a bottle of GT’s. As she grew, so did another fascination with kombucha—the issues involved in kombucha law. Do you need a federal license to produce kombucha? What about a state license? Can you make kombucha at home and then sell it? Or, do you need a commercial premises to make and sell kombucha—must that be your own commercial space, or could you make kombucha at a commercial kitchen and then sell it? I found that the answer, responsive to so many questions in the law, is that it depends.
As a preliminary matter, though, the first thing to consider is what the alcohol content of the kombucha is (or will be). When producing traditional kombucha, the alcohol content often drifts above .5% ABV (that is, one half of one percent). A product that consists of .5% ABV or more is legally considered alcohol, and a permit is required from the federal government. Moreover, a TTB permit is required even if the ultimate final product is less than .5% ABV. For example, if a producer makes anything beyond .5% ABV—even if the producer plans to dilute that later in the final product—a permit is still required. Of course, there’s no “kombucha permit”—at least not yet!—and so the options for alcohol permits are the ones you would expect. The federal government (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or the TTB for short) has three kinds of alcohol permits. There is the brewery permit, the winery permit, or the distilled spirits plant permit.
Through vigil efforts, a kombucha producer (side note: I often think of them as a professional “kombuchery,” and I’m seeing others are starting to use the term as well!) may keep the ABV below .5% at all times. If this is the tact the producer is taking, a permit is not required, and sales would not be limited to those of legal drinking age. Nevertheless, because of the steps involved in making kombucha, it is often not a product eligible to be made at home under the cottage food laws in each state. Moreover, keep in mind that if the product drifts above .5% ABV while it is on the retail shelves (perhaps due to unrefrigerated storage and continued fermentation), then the producer is liable for alcohol taxes, and is essentially producing alcohol without proper licensure. Not good. Indeed, this issue spawned a recall of kombucha products five or so years back, and caused a few entrants into the kombucha market to reconsider. More regulation, federal taxes (at the time of writing $7 for every 31 gallons, also known as a barrel, on the first 50,000 bbls), state taxes (depends on the state), a regulated premises, sales to those 21+ only, potential placement in the alcohol aisle of the grocery store (and many natural foods stores lack permits to even sell alcohol), and so on. It’s a lot to deal with and more risk—especially when dealing with unpasteurized kombucha with live cultures, which for many producers and consumers is the very point—there’s far more inherent risk than when selling a pasteurized orange juice.
If you are making traditional kombucha, or want the ability to produce a line of .5% ABV+ kombucha, then the TTB brewery permit is what tends to fit. Without drilling too far into the legal nitty gritty, a TTB-approved brewer is able to produce alcohol through extracting sugars from malted barley, or using any number of approved substitutes . Sugar is one of those substitutes. Moreover, a TTB-approved brewer is able to use various adjuncts in flavoring the final product—and so this is how tea and various herbal seasonings may be introduced into the product. Keep in mind, though, that a beer product—or any food product—may only contain ingredients that FDA deems “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS.
Key, though, is that if a TTB-approved brewer is making a product that lacks malted barley and hops (which defines beer under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act), then the product is not subject to TTB Certificate of Label Approval requirements. This may seem like a boon, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Because the product is not TTB “beer,” it may not be subject to COLAs, but it is subject to labeling requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Thus, nutrition facts would be necessary. (And, notably, laws prevent producers from dropping in just a tiny bit of hops and malted barley to get around this requirement.)
Further, depending on the composition of the kombucha, a formula approval may be required. However, if all the ingredients come from the exempted list, then the formula approval may be avoided.
All in all, the legal requirements for making kombucha are nuanced. They also can vary by the state. For someone interested in opening a kombucha brewery, it is well worth learning about the legal requirements involved in producing kombucha—and forming a plan for a compliant launch of your new business endeavor. If you are going the the traditional permitted route, then obtaining federal, state, and local permits may affect your kombucha company start-up timeline, not to mention your start-up costs.
This kicks off a series of posts we’ll be making about kombucha law, including diving into more detail about the above issues we’ve already noted.
If a Washington brewery wants minors on the premises, what does it need to do?
The question comes up quite a bit. Can families spend time at a brewery? We’ve seen kids at breweries, but is it legal? Can we get into trouble? As the law and regulations stand right now, the answer is fairly straightforward.
First things first. Federal laws and regulations don’t have a say. So, we don’t need to worry about the Alcohol Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) when thinking about minors on a brewery premises. TTB cares about the premises layout, a lot. But they don’t dictate who comes onto it.
The state perspective, however, does matter. Here in Washington, we have the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) which includes law created by our legislators. We also have the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) which includes regulations. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB, formerly the Washington State Liquor Control Board) is the regulatory agency that creates the relevant regulations for the alcoholic beverage industry here.
Between the RCW and WAC, here’s what we have. The base license to operate a brewery in Washington State is the Microbrewery License or the Domestic Brewery license, depending on your volume of production. For most reading this, the Microbrewery license applies (60,000 bbl annually).
The base license is treated as a non-retail license. That is, licensees—those who have the licensee—are not treated like “retailers.” This is the case, even though we all know breweries in Washington are allowed to sell beer at retail, just like retailers.
Importantly, though, there is no age restriction imposed at a non-retail premises. Therefore, when a Washington brewery uses its built-in retail rights—under its “non-retail license”—the Washington brewery can allow families and minors on the premises. Of course, the brewery can’t serve alcohol to those minors. And best practice would be to have prepackaged snacks available.
Can a brewery obtain a retail license to supplement its non-retail rights? Yes. But at the location licensed with the retail license, the brewery is subject to food minimums or age restrictions. Retail licensees do have additional obligations to have minors on the premises.
We’ll touch on why a brewery might want a retail license in our next post. As it stands, though, a Washington brewery can have minors on the premises—without burdensome or, truly, any food requirements—so long as the brewery is using its built-in rights to retail beer.
How long does it take to open a brewery? I’ve put together resources as a part of our Brewery Startup Series in the past. I thought it was time to revisit the milestones we’ve provided, putting the brewery startup process into a helpful timeline for those thinking about getting started. This is a sketch of what it looks like for most emerging alcoholic beverage businesses, getting at how long it takes to open a brewery:
8+ months out:
-Business Planning: Put together a business plan, consider whether investors are needed. If so, you may need to add to the timeline, to compliantly raise funds and bring those investors onboard.
7-8 months out:
-Business Setup: Form your entity, obtain an Employer Identification Number, Open a Business Bank Account, Fund the Account. This comes first.
-Get an Operating Agreement together that guides decision making, transfers of interests, and sets forth the business and management structure.
-Take steps to clear your brewery name.
-As soon as the entity comes together, file for protection for your selected and cleared brewery name. (Can do this up to 3 years or so before you open, but best to wait until the entity is in place.)
5-6 months out:
-Begin seeking out space, negotiate a lease.
-Once a lease is in place, kick off federal licensing as much as is possible.
1-2 months out:
-Tee up the state licensing process as much as possible so that when federal comes in, you’ll be ready to submit.
-Obtain federal approval and submit to state.
-Submit label approvals to TTB or the state, if required.
-Clear and protect all important brand material, such as the brewery logo and flagship beer names.
There are many sub-steps of course, and the scope of the project and commitments of the founders may affect the timeline a good bit, but those are the big milestones. If you have a good idea of your team, a handle on brewing, and a vision of what you want to do, this is a realistic look at how it works for many brewery startups. We’re here to help for those who have questions or are looking to fill in the gaps.
1. Permits Online is truly Mac compatible. Finally! As a part of that, you can now upload documents with ease—and without installing Microsoft Silverlight. This is the biggest one for me.
Here are the browser versions it works with on Macs and PCs alike (it may not look perfect in browsers other than Explorer for a little while, but Permits Online is fully functional, they’re just working out cosmetic kinks):
Apple Safari 6.0 or higher
Google Chrome 42.0 or higher
Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 or higher
Mozilla Firefox 39.0 or higher
2. TTB Permits Online 4.2 has also pulled the +4 zip code (four zip) requirement for addresses, so you only need to enter in the first five digits (the ones we all use anyway). This will save a bit of time and source of delay for new permittees.
3. There’s an Auto-fill button for addresses (but I’d suggest using it with caution—make sure the premises address is the one you want!).
All in all, I’m really glad to see this update take place. Nice improvements no matter what kind of machine you use, but all of us diehard Mac users have the most to be happy about!