The TTB is Watching – Beverage Community Asked to Self-Report Violations

As the TTB enters a more user-friendly phase with its updated online registration portal, it is important to remember that it remains an enforcement arm of the federal government for the beverage alcohol community. In a somewhat ominous circular, the TTB requested that “each industry member review its promotional business practices to assure that such activities comply with the letter and spirit of the Federal trade practices laws and regulations.”  Not only did it ask for each community member to review its practices, the TTB also “encourage[d] each member of the regulated community to voluntarily disclose its own violations upon discovery.”  According to the circular, voluntary disclosure could lessen the actions, if any, taken by the TTB in response to those violations.  To assist with that compliance, the TTB circular provided a link to the Federal trade practice laws and regulations.  It should be noted that the TTB can seek to suspend or revoke basic permits or initiate criminal referrals.  (more…)

Changing Policies and Practices? Don’t Just Question if it’s Legal, Question the PR Consequences

Over the past few days, while many were preparing turkeys or throwing out lettuce, the Boston Globe posted Trouble is brewing at craft beer darling Trillium.  The article is accessible here, and another article by Paste on the same subject is here, but the long and the short of it is that Trillium changed how it was paying employees, and employee’s aren’t happy. Without getting into the truth behind any of the allegations made by the employees, I think that there are two things we can focus on: 1) sometimes the PR of a change in policy/practice costs more than you’re trying to save by changing the policy or practice; and 2) there are specific factors that must be met when we use a tipped minimum wage. (more…)

Dilly! Dilly! Is Giving Away Free Beer so Silly?

Every beer drinking football fan in Cleveland knows by now that there will be magic beer fridges stationed throughout Cleveland that will miraculously open to produce bottles of free Bud Light if the football gods see fit to allow the Browns to win a football game this year.

At first glance, I pictured the regulatory referees throwing yellow flags across the field decreeing a penalty for violating beer promotion laws. But as a curious promotions lawyer, I thought it was worth a little investigation into trying to find out how a stunt akin to the Fumblerooski can be successfully pulled off. (more…)

Cause Marketing For Craft Brewers (You Can Do Good, But Don’t Let Your Promotion Go Bad)

“Buy our beer and we’ll donate $1 to charity.” The ultimate “doing well by doing good.” Many large beer brands see the marketing advantage of asking consumers to buy their product in return for the brand’s donation to charity. For example, since 2011, Corona has donated a portion of the purchase price to the Jimmy V Foundation to help raise money for cancer research and in six years Miller Beer has raised $175,000 through its Tap Into Change program by donating a portion of sales to organizations focusing on LGBTQ issues.

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Take That Down: Recent Lawsuit on Negative Reviews

“Beer: The cause and solution to all of life’s problems.”

Mr. Homer J. Simpson would love the recent case of a Massachusetts craft beer company that has been trying in federal court to get the employment website Glassdoor to turn the taps off and take down negative reviews about the company.  Craft Beer Stellar filed an amended complaint in the District of Massachusetts, which is now subject to a motion to dismiss filed on May 11.  The claims, defenses and legal issues raised are exactly what you would expect in a fight over negative online reviews.

For a refresher, we have previously addressed the issue of negative online reviews here and here.

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A Guy Unexpectedly Walks into a TSA Bag Inspection: Don’t Let TSA Snag your Swag and Other Promotions Gone Awry

With the increasing popularity of beer tourism and the statistics on brand loyalty (or lack thereof) among craft beer lovers, breweries may be looking for ways to promote their brand and keep their brewery’s name on the lips of consumers.  Some have started loyalty programs, while others find alternate fun and distinctive ways to promote their brand.  We continue to be amazed by and applaud the craft brew community’s innovative approach to growth and marketing.  We encourage you to keep the craft beer community unique, creative and fun.  But, sometimes promotions go wrong in unexpected ways that at best are embarrassing, and at worst run afoul of the law.

So let’s start with a recent mistake that led to the risk management guy (your author) getting stopped by TSA on his way home from speaking on that very topic at a national conference.  I assume that most of this conference’s attendees flew there.  I would also guess that many who flew opted not to check a bag.   Those two simple facts were overlooked by at least one conference exhibitor whose good intentions in handing out carabiner key chains and pens went awry.  (more…)

(PODCAST) Tap Tips for Entity Formation and Taxation

In this episode of Verrill Voices: Lawyers on Tap, Verrill Dana attorneys Jennifer Green and Jonathan Dunitz discuss the importance of entity formation to the overall success of a brewery business, and the differences between forming an entity using widely available online resources versus doing so with the assistance of an experienced attorney. Drawing on her experience as a seasoned tax attorney, Jen provides invaluable information about the tax implications of various entity formation choices. (more…)

Lawyers on Tap in Nashville

Next week, on April 30, thousands from the craft brewing community will take over America’s Music City for the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America, presented by the Brewers Association. Joining them at this year’s conference are Verrill Dana Lawyers on Tap, Tawny Alvarez and Jonathan Dunitz. Jonathan will co-present, “From 1 Barrel to 1,000: Managing Risk from Start-Up to Rapid Growth,” with fellow panelists James Sanborn, of GHM Insurance Agency; Brad Weller, of Macpage; and Daniel Kleban, of Maine Beer Company. The panel discussion will focus on the risk that brewers need to be attuned to throughout their brewery’s growth – whether it’s a new lease for a larger facility, a bad batch of beer, contracts with glass manufacturers and canning contractors, or an accident in a tasting room. They will cover how to best protect your brewery from business and economic risks, including the roles of insurance coverage and bookkeeping. (more…)

TTB Expands Allowable Changes to Labels without Resubmission, but Reminds us that One Label “Does Not (Necessarily) Fit All”

Certificate of Label Approval (or COLA) can be one of the more frustrating processes for brewers.  Each label must be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  Once the COLA is issued, only certain, limited changes can be made to the label without resubmitting it for new approval.  In many situations, there are state requirements that must also be met.

Until March 26, 2018, there were only 34 categories of label revisions that could be made without a new application.  On March 26, 2018, the TTB issued Industry Circular Number 2018-2, which amended an existing category and added three new categories of label revisions that may be made without submitting a new application (click here for the full list of categories). (more…)

Opening Day Edition: Beer Advertising and Sports

Today (March 29) is baseball’s opening day and beer and baseball are in the news.  The New York Yankees appear to be in trouble for their new “Pinstripe Pilsner” which has an image of your favorite Yankee player in the foam.  But those of you wanting to take a sip of Aaron Judge’s mug may have to wait, since MLB does not allow current players on beer advertising.

Beer has been linked with baseball for as long as baseball has existed.  In fact, the original Cincinnati Redstockings left the National League in 1881 when its brewer-owner refused to sign a “no beer at the ballpark” pledge.  Today, there are still calls to take the suds out of sports.  But knowing the current do’s and don’ts of sports advertising will help you stay a-head of the game. (more…)