On July 1, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (No. 182 and 183), proposing to amend the “standards of fill” for wine and spirits in response to several petitions received by the TTB. Currently, federal rules contain specific allowed standards of fill for wine and spirits. This means bottles of wine and spirits have limited container sizes, which has led to restrictions on manufacturing and retail options for consumers, particularly for single container sizes.

However, there are no such standards of fill for malt beverages. According to the TTB, the underlying purpose of the proposed rule changes is to “eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements and provide consumers broader purchasing options” and allow for greater manufacturing options.

If approved as currently drafted, this proposed “deregulatory” effort will eliminate all but a minimum 50 mL standard of fill for wine, and all but a minimum 50 mL and maximum 3.785 mL (one gallon) standards of fill for distilled spirits containers (the maximum for spirits is set by statute via the Federal Alcohol Administration Act).

TTB stated in its rulemaking that it believes the minimum 50 mL fill is the smallest container that can still include a legible label with all mandatory information. Flexibility on standards of fill have a number of benefits for wineries and distilleries.

For example, wineries could sell wine in “standard” can sizes of 12 ounces or 355 mL, which may lower the cost for wineries that now have to source special sized cans for their products. In addition, this will allow flexibility for products that must now be packaged in aggregate packaging to meet set standards of fill.

  • E.g., four 250 mL cans of wine may currently be sold together as one package because the total aggregate standard of fill is 1 Liter, one of the approved standards of fill in existing regulations, but these cans may not be sold individually since 250 mL is not an allowed standard of fill.

The potential downside of allowing multiple different container sizes is that they may make it more difficult for consumers to comparison shop between products, and could pose challenges for retailers in configuring shelf space.

Notice 183 also proposes to codify TTB practice to allow malt beverages and spirits to be labeled with metric and standard U.S. measurements for net contents, in line with what is allowed for wine. The proposed rules also relax required minimum “headspace” in clear wine containers of 100 mL or less (this is intended for pre-filled, sealed glasses of wine).

TTB is seeking comments on a number of alternatives to eliminating most standards of fill, including whether the TTB should add in additional approved standards of fill for wine and spirits, or create an expedited process for approving unique standards of fill. Comments for the two proposed rules are due on August 30, 2019.