This is going to look really spiffy on a bottle of our ale in the near future. Don’t you think? It’s the culmination of months of ‘the creative process’ involving many real people and some fake ones, too. Well, maybe not FAKE, but somewhat false. It seems so ridiculous, so painfully Orwellian, this experience I’m having with a little piece of paper with words and images on it. And the federal government. How much can our system control what people see and interpret? When does a good intention turn into a blasphemous use of taxpayer dollars? Guess what??? I’ve found one. Call Tom Brokaw, would you? I’m feeling pretty fleeced right now.
Back in May. May 14, I submitted our first official label attempt to the Advertising, Labeling, and Formulation Division of the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. I, at once, demanded more capital letters and acronyms, but that’s another story. Our label was denied 3 times for font size, how we stated the volume on the bottle (That’s 1 pint, 9.4 fluid ounces NOT 25.4 fl. oz.!!!). Little harmless whatevers. Finally, I had it where I thought ‘they’ wanted it. Nope. Seems that our use of the word Apothecary falsely promotes a health benefit to the consumer (whom we evidently must protect like a rosy-cheeked babe). The timing is a bit interesting because we had been licensed by another arm of the TTB over a year ago under the name ‘The Ale Apothecary’. It’s how we pay our taxes. Crazy! We were also instructed to remove the image of mortar and pestle from our label (it was in the place of my mash tun in our current label, above). I fought this angle for a bit, stating that the word ‘Apothecary’ actually means ‘storekeeper’ and that in today’s modern society, it has lost any true meaning that it once had. It’s an antique word that can mean a piece of furniture, candy, lotion, wine cafe, tea shop, what have you. And a mortar & pestle makes great guacamole. I even tried playing on the sentimental value of my family heritage, which one should be able to celebrate out loud and in public if one wants. No go. So, instead of hiring a lawyer, I went back and hired Nate again over at Accomplice Creative to re-work what he’d done. With some inspiration from my friend, graffiti George, and substituting an image of my mash tun in place of the mortar & pestle, we now had something way cooler than before AND we were complying with the feds. Perhaps I should be thanking the TTB for this. Our label ended up better because of you. At least some of you.
Well, that was about 2 weeks ago. We complied, we filed, but we still haven’t received approval. Not so good for a start-up business needing to bring in revenue. Again, shouldn’t they be helping me to generate some consumer activity? Wouldn’t that be the best thing in everyone’s interest? Again, nope. Evidently, forms and the way they are filled out (and by whom) trump common sense. It’s like Brazil, that movie by Terry Gilliam, coming alive right in front of me. Here’s the gist:
“You need to update your trade name if you’re not going to use ‘The Ale Apothecary’. It needs to reflect that your trade name is ¿APOTH?.” OK. Where’s the form?
“That’s another department. Call this number.” OK.
“Hello? Yes, you need an Amended Basic Permit Form. Fill it out like this.” OK. Here you go!
“We received it. Thank you.” OK. 2 days pass.
“Unfortunately, this is not the right form. You need to file a new Brewers Notice Form. And our system cannot handle an upside down question mark. Fill out part A, circle both boxes, even though is says only to circle one. Part 14, section 3 as well. Please fax instead of scan.” No fax number included. Email sent requesting fax number, still no response.
I have until July 4th to re-submit my label to the Labeling and Formulation Division (as seen above), which meets all the criteria I’ve been asked to meet. It will be discarded otherwise. However, I need to wait for the Revenue department (the other guys) of the TTB to change my ‘Doing Business As’ name in THE SYSTEM so the Labeling Division can see it in front of them. I have filled out the form, but they can’t deal with an upside down question mark or send me a fax number?
It’s almost too much to handle, but since I make alcohol for a living, I can at least self-medicate. Take that, TTB. In a situation where my great-grandfather filled prescriptions for beer during prohibition, my grandfather ran a state-controlled liquor store from his pharmacy, and my father raised and educated me on income generated from his pharmacy, I am forbidden to use any reference to this whatsoever. In case people get the wrong idea. And I don’t think I’m talking about a false health benefit here.
I’m talking about people thinking independently and doing things for themselves, regardless of red tape and uncommon sense.
As Staci says, “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.”
I’m about ready to take her advice and apply it to the front of a bottle of beer.
July 1st, 2012 at 5:02 am
that staci’s a wise wise woman.
July 2nd, 2012 at 3:02 am
Wow, what a story. The label is totally cool, even if you are not after dealing with these “2-bit bureaucrats” as my father would have said. Fed and State numb nuts go crazy over labels, yet “spices” can harbor MSG, GMOs go unlabeled and 0 trans fats can contain them if less than .5 gr/serving.These goombas have nothing better to do than drive you mad over a mortar and pestle image? Hang in there, I’m sure your hard work will pay off.
July 2nd, 2012 at 4:22 pm
NIce label, Paul. Have no fear, you’ll get there soon enough and then this will all just be a great startup story!
July 5th, 2012 at 4:34 pm
Came through as approved on July 3rd! Congrats!
July 12th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
[…] (Bend, OR) – So, you want to start a brewery? One company that did just that recently got a pretty rude awakening from the TTB when it failed to submit a beer label meeting the federal agency’s standards. This is a requirement in order to be able to sell beer across state lines. The label for The Ale Apothecary Sahalie Wine Barrel-aged Ale has since been approved though its journey to approval makes for an entertaining read… […]
July 18th, 2012 at 8:09 pm
[…] is an opinion piece about beer labels and dealing with the federal […]
September 21st, 2012 at 1:48 am
I am further baffled by the TTB after seeing a post today that showed a bottle of Funky Buddha Passion Fruit Berliner. The label has a large Rx on it (prescription) and further says, “Pour into pint glass take by mouth daily as needed. Refills mandatory.” It even has an Rx number on it. How they can approve this label, which I have no issue with, and deny your use of Apothecary in the name of your brewery baffles me.