UPDATE: April 25, 2014: TTB is suspending TTB Ruling 2014-3 pending rulemaking on the filling of growlers.
“TTB has determined that it would be appropriate to engage in rulemaking on this issue so that we can modernize our regulations to specifically address the filling of growlers with taxpaid wine. This will allow TTB to evaluate what regulations are necessary in order to protect the revenue without unduly burdening businesses that wish to engage in this activity. This will also enable us to evaluate comments from all interested parties, including consumers, industry members, and State regulatory agencies.”
The TTB issued a Ruling on wine growlers this month. First, what is a “wine growler?” Basically, a wine growler is resealable jug that is designed to be filled / refilled with taxpaid wine for off-premises consumption. The growler has been around for centuries and recently has become a staple of small craft breweries and wineries. The idea is that customers bring in their own growler (or buy one on site) and fill / refill it from the tap of the craft brewery or winery. But there are differences in the laws regulating breweries and wineries, and therefore, wine growlers require special (or just “different”) attention.
For example, the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) requires that anyone who bottles, packages, or repackages taxpaid wine to first apply for and receive permission to operate as a taxpaid wine bottling house. There is no analogous provision with respect to beer. Wine bottling houses must comply with several requirements, such as proper maintenance of records, fill measurements and labeling.
The filling of wine growlers or similar containers with taxpaid wine for consumption off of the premises is considered bottling or packing under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (IRC), and any person who engages in this activity must first qualify as a taxpaid wine bottling house and also must comply with all requirements applicable to taxpaid wine bottling houses, including labeling and recordkeeping requirements under the IRC and the regulations in 27 CFR part 24.
What about wine growler labeling requirements? So long as the taxpaid wine is first sold to the consumer and then placed into the growler in the presence of the consumer, the growler is not treated as a “bottle” under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (“FAA”) or a “container” under the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act (“ABLA”), and is therefore not subject to the labeling requirements of those statutes. HOWEVER, a wine growler that is filled in advance of purchase, i.e., “pre-packaged,” is treated like any other bottle of wine and must adhere to all relevant laws including the requirement that containers of wine be covered by a certificate of label approval (COLA) or a certificate of exemption from label approval before the bottling of the wine and its subsequent removal from the taxpaid wine bottling house. Likewise, if you plan to prepackage and ship wine growlers, you must comply with all applicable federal laws and regulations. (When it comes to navigating the world of shipping wine, we recommend contacting our friends at ShipCompliant.com).
Proprietors are responsible for ensuring that the label accurately describes the wine being placed in the container, and for removing or completely covering any preexisting labels on containers that do not accurately describe the wine being placed in the container.
Finally, in case you’re wondering if your local wine shop, wine bar or restaurant can get in on the wine growler filling action … they can’t.
The only situation in which a retailer may place taxpaid wine into other containers without qualifying as a taxpaid wine bottling house is when this activity occurs for purposes of consumption on the premises of the retailer.