Though the famed medieval German beer law, rheinheistgebot, forbade the use of any ingredients besides water, barley and hops to make beer, modern brewers enjoy much success with the addition of other ingredients including: fruit, spices, vegetables, plants, and sugars. Until very recently, brewing and selling beers with such ingredients required the archaic labeling rigamarole of stating each unique component to the TTB (the federal Tax and Trade Bureau) on proposed new beer labels and getting label formula approval before commercial release, forcing two tedious steps in what many consider an already inefficient and arbitrary approval system.
For example, if you brewed a beer with cocoa nibs, you had to say directly on the label that the beer was “brewed with cocoa nibs”, a requirement that didn’t leave much room for streamlined TTB label proposals by the breweries themselves. More annoyingly, you had to send your formula to the TTB, stating your use of cocoa nibs, for their approval before you could get the green-light. According to the TTB, until this summer, additions of such ingredients were not considered “traditional” and therefore required specific label mention and approval. Viewed as a needless paperwork on the part of many brewers, these strictures served to ignite friction between the industry and its governing bodies.
However, a summer editorial by Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza explains that the TTB has loosened restrictions on such delineated labeling and formula approval for some of the most common brewing adjuncts. In the actual ruling, found here, the TTB refers to these ingredients as “exempted from the formula requirements of the TTB regulations and the processes that we have determined to be traditional in the production of beer.” In short, the use of these fruits, spices, vegetables and other adjuncts has become so commonplace that their specific appearance on labels and in beers is no longer deemed anomalous.
This ruling allows for a variety of oft-used fruits like raspberries, cherries, peaches, seasonal standout pumpkins, popular spices like cinnamon, coriander and anise, liquid or bean coffee, cocoa nibs or cocoa powder and fruit zest or peel to go unmentioned. Additionally, it also relaxes stringent delineations between new and old oak chips.
Gatza marks this move as a victory for the industry and, we must say, we have to agree. Though any new ruling from the TTB which better explains the sometimes murky world of beer label and formula approval is a positive one, this particular step seems to show a more successful working relationship between the Brewers Association (craft beer’s main lobby) and the federal bodies governing the industry. Though alcohol law–particularly the sections regarding labeling–can seem outdated and sluggish to change, this TTB ruling represents a hopeful turning tide of cooperation between the powers at be. This sort of cooperation can only mean good things for an industry that continues to grow and mature.