Will the U.S. Get Better International Spirits? A TTB Standards of Fill Update

As any US-based distilled spirit enthusiast knows too well, many great bottles don’t make it to our shores for several reasons. One particularly frustrating reason is bottle sizes. Here in the U.S., the government, in the form of the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) only allow certain bottles sizes for distilled spirits. The allowed sizes50ml, 100ml, 200ml, 375ml, 750ml, 1 liter, and 1.75 liters

Meanwhile, in most of the rest of the world, a 700ml bottle is the “standard” size, meaning such bottles can’t legally be imported into the U.S. Many spirit brands can’t afford or don’t want to bottle multiple bottle sizes, so U.S. based consumers are out of luck.

Recently, the TTB put forth a proposal to eliminate
the various “standards of fill” i.e. allowed bottle sizes, thus opening the U.S.
market to more products. My previous
story
elaborated on the proposal and its potential impact. As with all such
proposals, public commentary was sought, and a deadline for comment set.

The comment deadline has now passed, and because all
submitted comments can be publicly
viewed
, it’s worth looking at who advocated for what. What follows is an annotated
version of a summary sent to WIRSPA member distilleries:

Note: Each link directly opens the PDF that was submitted to
the TTB.

  • US based craft distilling groups (ACSA, American
    Coalition of Craft Beverage Importers
    ) were broadly in support of the
    complete elimination of standards of fill (SOF).
  • US distributors, wholesalers, retailers,
    licensees, and US brands (Sazerac, Heaven
    Hill
    , WSWA, Southern
    Glazer’s
    ) as well as the association of control states were fully opposed
    to any change, specifically citing consumer confusion and citing the 700ml size
    as a way for non-US producers to get an advantage over local brands.  Also, the cost of maintaining additional
    SKUs.
  • International drinks bodies (Scotch
    Whisky Association
    , Tequila, BNIC (Cognac), Spirits
    Canada
    ) and DISCUS supported the maintenance of SOF but wished to continue to consult on how a
    system to consider new sizes could work. SWA was the only one who suggested
    another look at 700ml. The European
    Union
    also agrees with this approach.
  • Diageo, Bacardi and Remy
    Cointreau
    all made submissions supporting the existing SOF but asking for
    some limited additions, similar in intent to WIRSPA’s
    submission, which suggested additional sizes: 350ml, 500ml; 700ml; 1.5 liter.
  • Two EU based brands – Campari and Moet
    Hennessey
    – made individual submissions. 
    Both were strongly opposed to any change, and specifically to adding the
    700ml size, which they saw as a route to unauthorized grey market imports,
    counterfeit product, and potential for US tax losses.

In short, large, well-established entities were opposed to
eliminating the standards of fill, or for allowing just a few more standards of
fill. Disrupting the current system was often cited.

Smaller entities and enthusiasts were much more likely to be
in favor of eliminating the SOF.

As I write this, the TTB has not announced any formal
decision on the proposal. I’ll update here when they do.

Regardless of your position on the issue, reading public
comments on various TTB proposals can be fascinating reading. It’s a rare glimpse
into companies and organizations starting unvarnished opinions, and mostly
devoid of marketing spin.

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