In Life of a Distiller

We are often asked about the process to create and release a new spirit. There are many “compliance opportunities” in running a distillery, and this is certainly one of them! Here’s a brief overview of the regulatory process we followed for our latest limited release, SommerWeizen:

Step 1: Develop the Recipe & Submit it for Approval

First, we had to decide what we were making and how we would make it. This process can take weeks, months or years depending on what we are making and how intricate the product becomes. Once we’ve decided, we must submit a formula to the federal government (the Taxation & Trade Bureau, or “TTB” to be precise) for review. The feds want to be sure that we haven’t used any prohibited ingredients, that we are classifying the product in a manner that will be clear for consumers, and that we have classified the spirit correctly for tax purposes. This review process used to take just a few weeks, but these days is taking over 2 months (and sometimes, as was the case with this product, quite a bit longer).

Step 2: Decide on Packaging & Decoration2014 Limited Release

While we wait for the formula approval, we work on the package and design. We first have to decide on a bottle for the product – what size, what style, and what type of closure.  While many of our products are in the same bottle, we don’t think that style of bottle works for everything, and we sometimes use some other sizes and shapes (as was the case for SommerWeizen).

Once we’ve decided on a bottle, we have to decide how to decorate the bottle. There are some required elements, most notably a statement of composition for the spirit, the name/location of the producer, the government warning on the back, volume and percent alcohol. The rest of the design is up to us, so we put our creative hats on and think about how we want to convey what is inside the bottle from the outside.

For SommerWeizen, since it is designed after a quintessential summer beverage, we wanted to convey a relaxing summer scene. We wanted to give a sense of the flavors inside, and came up with an initial description for the product.

Step 3: Submit the Label for Approval

Once the formula has been approved by the TTB, we also need to submit the label for approval. This process also used to take just a few weeks, but has been taking up to 3 months lately – SommerWeizen’s approval process took just under 3 months. As is often the case, we had some back and forth with the TTB about how we would talk about the product, so the language on the front and back of the bottle are meaningfully different from what we initially submitted. The TTB is concerned with both compliance issues (is the government warning there, and the required font size, etc.), and also if the label will be readable and understandable for the average consumer. Since SommerWeizen is something that has never been made before, and isn’t easily fit into an established category, it took a fair bit of discussion to agree on the wording.

SommerWeizen Bottle Shot - July 2014Step 4: Submit Label to State Authorities

In many of the states where we sell, we are also required to register our products with the state’s government. Once TTB approval is issued, we file additional paperwork with those states to inform them of our desire to sell the product in their state. In most cases, we are not allow to ship the new spirit to those states until the requisite approval is received.

Step 5: Print Labels, Decorate Bottles & Bring it to Market

Once we have the needed approvals in place, we can go ahead and have the labels actually printed – that process typically takes a couple of weeks. Then, we can decorate the bottles and pack them into cases for transport to our wholesale partners, and it makes its way onto you!

Whew, we’re thirsty now – how about you?