Distilled Spirits FAQs

S16: I operate a distillery and would like to provide a “virtual tasting room” experience by providing customers the opportunity to order small containers of my products. What TTB rules apply?

Although there are no specific provisions under TTB regulations for shipping small containers to customers for tasting events, distillers may do so under existing laws and regulations administered by TTB that apply to all taxable removals and shipments of products from the distillery. Below is some information that may assist distillers that are considering sending small containers of distilled spirits to consumers.

Please note that compliance with the Federal requirements outlined below does not relieve the distiller of its obligation to ensure compliance with all applicable State and local laws, which may prohibit or place additional restrictions on the direct shipment of distilled spirits by producers to consumers.

Container Size
Distilled spirits may be removed from the distillery only in approved container sizes, known as standards of fill. The two smallest approved standards of fill that may be used by distillers are 50 mL, which is equivalent to 1.7 fluid ounces, and 100 mL, which is equivalent to 3.4 fluid ounces. The full list of authorized standards of fill, which are applicable to both intrastate and interstate sales, are found in 27 CFR 5.203. See also 27 CFR 19.511.

Labeling

  • Interstate Shipments
    Distilled spirits containers that will be shipped or sold or otherwise introduced in interstate commerce must be labeled and bottled in compliance with the regulations found in 27 CFR part 5.  The distiller must obtain a certificate of label approval (COLA) prior to bottling and removing the bottled product from the distillery.  See 27 CFR 5.22.
  • Intrastate shipments
    Distilled spirits containers that will be shipped or sold exclusively to customers in the State where bottled may be covered by a certificate of exemption, and they must bear labels that comply with the requirements in 27 CFR 19.517 - 19.518. Distilled spirits containers covered by a certificate of exemption must be labeled as “For sale in [name of State] only.” See 27 CFR 5.23(c)
  • Health Warning Statement
    The health warning statement must appear on the label of any alcoholic beverage containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume, manufactured or bottled for sale or distribution in the United States. See 27 CFR part 16 for the requirements.

See the Distilled Spirits Labeling guidance pages for more information about labeling and COLA requirements, including the List of Allowable Changes to Approved Labels, which provides information on label revisions not requiring further approval.

Tax, Recordkeeping, and Reporting

As stated above, the removal of distilled spirits for shipment to consumers is treated the same as any other removal of distilled spirits from the distillery that is taxable under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and TTB regulations.  Among other things, the distiller must determine and pay the Federal excise tax, keep records, and file operational reports that include reporting all removals, as described in 27 CFR part 19.

Other Applicable Laws and Regulations

The distiller is responsible for ensuring compliance with all applicable State and local laws, including the laws of the States and localities into which the distilled spirits are being shipped.  TTB provides a list of and links to State alcohol beverage regulatory authorities, which may be helpful in this regard.  Also note that Federal law (18 U.S.C. 1716) prohibits sending alcohol beverages through the U.S. mail; the distiller may contact a private courier service (such as UPS, FedEx, or a local delivery service, among others) for shipment options.

Last reviewed/updated 05/03/2022


S4: What requirements are there for people who sell stills?

Under regulations in part 29 of title 27, Code of Federal Regulations, TTB has the right to require manufacturers of stills to give us the name and address of each customer. If we choose to impose this requirement, we inform the manufacturer of the stills by letter. You should also review our Home Distilling page.

 


S12: Do I need a permit to import beverage alcohol products for my own use, or to ship or bring my personal alcohol collection into the U.S. from overseas?

Please visit TTB's Personal Importation of Beverage Alcohol Products page for information on bringing alcohol into the U.S. for non-commercial purposes.

 


S7: May I produce beer, wine or spirits for my personal or family use without paying Federal excise tax and filing Federal paperwork?

Beer

Production.

Removal of beer.

Wine

Wine for personal or family use.

Spirits

You may not produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties. You should also review our Home Distilling page.] There are numerous requirements that must be met that also make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use. Some of these requirements are filing an extensive application, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure spirits, providing suitable tanks and pipelines, providing a separate building (other than a dwelling) and maintaining detailed records, and filing reports. All of these requirements are listed in 27 CFR Part 19.

Spirits may be produced for nonbeverage purposes for fuel use only without payment of tax, but you also must file an application, receive TTB's approval, and follow requirements, such as construction, use, records and reports.

 


S15: I would like to manufacture and sell a frozen dessert product (such as ice cream or ice pops) containing distilled spirits. Does TTB regulate such products as alcohol beverages?

TTB regulates these products as alcohol beverages under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) if the products are “fit for beverage purposes.”  See generally 27 CFR 1.62 and 19.5.

As explained in § 19.5, TTB uses the standards outlined in 27 CFR part 17 to determine whether products are fit or unfit for beverage purposes.  TTB’s Nonbeverage Products Laboratory has the primary authority under 27 CFR 17.134 to determine whether products are fit or unfit for beverage purposes.  If a food product, such as an ice cream product, is determined to be fit for beverage purposes, then it would be treated as an alcohol beverage under the TTB regulations.  In this case, the product and its manufacturer would be subject to all applicable rules and regulations pertaining to the manufacture, distribution, and sale of an alcohol beverage, including requirements related to permitting, taxation, formulation, advertising and labeling.  If a food product is determined to be unfit for beverage purposes, then TTB would not treat it as an alcohol beverage.  (In this case, a manufacturer who uses taxpaid distilled spirits to make the product would be subject to TTB regulations in 27 CFR part 17 if the manufacturer chose to file a claim for the Federal excise taxes paid on the distilled spirits used, referred to in the TTB regulations as “drawback.”)

TTB regulations at 27 CFR 17.133(d) state that “ice cream and ices” have been found to be unfit for beverages purposes “where only sufficient spirits are used for flavoring purposes.”  In determining whether a frozen dessert product containing distilled spirits is unfit for beverage purposes, TTB considers a range of criteria related to the product which may affect its potential fitness or unfitness for beverage purposes.  In general, these criteria focus on the alcohol content of the product, the purpose served by the alcoholic ingredients in the product, whether other features of the product’s composition constrain its consumption as a beverage, and other relevant factors.  While alcohol content for beverage products is generally determined by volume, in the case of frozen dessert products, it may be necessary for TTB to measure alcohol content by weight.  Additionally, as provided in § 17.134, TTB considers a product’s sale or use for beverage purposes to be indicative of fitness for beverage use.

In light of all the factors mentioned above TTB has found that ice cream products are generally unfit for beverage purposes if they contain no greater than 2% alcohol by weight for flavoring purposes.  However, some frozen dessert products containing no greater than 2% alcohol by weight, including some ice cream products, may still be found to be fit for beverage purposes depending on the characteristics of the product and the application of the criteria described above.  For example, TTB review of a range of frozen dessert products has shown that ice pop products generally have a higher density than ice cream products, and thus contain higher concentrations of alcohol at the same unit of volume.  TTB has also found that ice pop products generally have a lower solids content than ice cream products, which indicates that the ice pop products lack ingredients that may act to constrain their consumption as a beverage.  Taking these factors into consideration, TTB has found that in many cases ice pop products may be fit for beverage purposes if they contain 0.5% alcohol by volume or greater.

Because the composition of frozen dessert products varies, TTB continues to evaluate these products on a case by case basis.  TTB also recognizes that frozen dessert products may be made with wine or beer.  Generally, TTB evaluates these products in the same manner as products containing distilled spirits.

For more information on submitting nonbeverage products, refer to the Drawback Tutorial. Interested parties who have questions concerning this guidance may also contact the Regulations and Rulings Division at 202-453-2265 or use the Contact Us form.

 


S2: What is proof, and how do I calculate the proof gallons of distilled spirits?

What is proof?

Proof is a method of measuring the alcohol content of spirits. You calculate the proof of a spirits product by multiplying the percent of alcohol by volume by two (2). For example, a spirits product that has a 40% alcohol content by volume is 80 proof [40 multiplied by 2 = 80].

How do I calculate proof?

Converting U.S. gallons into proof gallons for tax purposes:

1. Multiply U.S. gallons by the percent of alcohol by volume.

2. Multiply by 2.

3. Divide by 100.

Sample calculation:

1. 100 U.S. gallons x 40% alcohol by volume=4000

2. 4000 x 2=8000

3. 8000/100= 80 proof gallons

You may also find our TTB Proofing Video Series helpful.

 

 


S10: I want to establish a distillery. Before I obtain a distilled spirits plant (DSP) permit, I want to refine the recipes and set up and perfect the production processes that I intend to use for commercial production. Can I obtain an "Experimental DSP" permit to cover that activity in the meantime?

No. In general, an experimental DSP permit does not cover activities such as refining recipes and perfecting production processes as a precursor to commercial production. The laws administered by TTB, specifically the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 at 26 U.S.C. 5312, provide for the establishment of experimental distilled spirits plants for the production and use of distilled spirits for experimental research. Specifically, section 5312(b) provides for the establishment and operation of experimental distilled spirits plants for specific and limited periods of time solely for experimentation in or development of:

  1. sources of materials from which distilled spirits may be produced;
  2. processes by which distilled spirits may be produced or refined; or
  3. industrial uses of distilled spirits.

TTB regulations at 27 CFR 19.32 and 19.33 implement this statutory provision.

Under the law and regulations, TTB does not have the authority to issue an experimental DSP permit to a person who intends to use standard sources of materials and standard processes. Refining recipes and perfecting production processes do not fall within the meaning of experimentation in, or development of, sources of materials or processes of production, if the sources of the materials and the production processes are consistent with those already established within the distilled spirits industry.

 


S5: How can I use distilled spirits in an industrial product or process without having to pay the excise tax?

The Internal Revenue Code provides three methods for doing this.

  1. Spirits that are denatured (i.e., treated with substances to make them unsuitable for human beverage consumption) may be used free of tax by a person who holds an industrial use permit. However, no permit is needed to use completely denatured alcohol or an approved article made from denatured spirits. Denatured spirits are suitable in a wide range of industrial applications, from mouthwash to fuel, etc., but not in products for internal human consumption, unless the spirits are removed.
  2. Persons such as research laboratories, hospitals, universities and government agencies may use un-denatured tax-free alcohol if they hold an industrial use permit. Un-denatured tax-free alcohol is prohibited from use in the manufacture of any product for sale.
  3. Un-denatured distilled spirits on which the tax has been paid may be used in the manufacture of medicines, medicinal preparations, food products, flavors, flavoring extracts, and perfume; and then drawback may be claimed. This drawback is similar to a refund; however, the drawback rate is $1 per proof gallon less than the applicable tax rate. The Government keeps the difference. For further information on using distilled spirits in any of these ways, please contact the TTB National Revenue Center at 877-882-3277.

 


S13: If State law provides for the sale of collectors’ bottles of spirits to bars and liquor stores for the purpose of resale, without requiring a state wholesaler permit, what are the Federal law implications?

Some States have enacted, or propose to enact, laws that allow retailers to purchase for resale “vintage” distilled spirits from non-licensed persons, for on or off-premises consumption.  With certain limited exceptions detailed below, it is unlawful for a retailer to purchase distilled spirits, whether “vintage” or otherwise, for resale from individuals or businesses that do not hold a Federal permit.

TTB administers provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) that apply to retailers and wholesalers of alcohol beverages.  Under the IRC and the TTB regulations issued under the authority of the IRC, it is generally unlawful for any alcohol beverage dealer (including wholesalers and retailers) to purchase distilled spirits for resale from any person other than:  

  • a wholesaler;
  • a retail liquor store operated by a State, a political subdivision of a State, or the District of Columbia; or
  • a person not required to register as a wholesaler (referred to under the regulations as a “wholesale liquor dealer”) under the TTB regulations at 27 CFR §§ 31.61, 31.62, 31.63, 31.66, and 31.67, which specify those who are not required to register as a wholesale liquor dealer and generally do not include individual collectors. 

See 26 U.S.C. 5132 and 5121(c), and the TTB regulations at 27 CFR 31.141 for more details. 

In addition to the above, TTB administers the provisions of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act), which in part prohibit engaging in the business of purchasing distilled spirits for resale at wholesale (i.e., to any wholesaler or retailer), or, while so engaged, selling those distilled spirits in interstate or foreign commerce without a Federal wholesaler basic permit.  See 27 U.S.C. 203(c). 

As a result, although State law may allow a person that is not licensed by the State to purchase “vintage” distilled spirits for resale to wholesalers or retailers, Federal law still requires an FAA Act basic permit if the frequency or quantity of such person’s purchases and/or sales is sufficient to constitute “engaging in business” as a wholesaler.  See 27 U.S.C. 203(c) and the TTB regulations at 27 CFR 1.22. 

State law does not preempt or otherwise negate the Federal requirements set forth above.

 


S8: Am I permitted to label my product with a specialized farming term to show my compliance with or concern for environmental initiatives and movements?

A description of specialized farming practices generally may appear on alcohol beverage labels as additional information provided it is truthful, accurate, specific, and does not conflict with, or in any manner qualify, mandatory labeling information. However, due to the constantly evolving nature of this field, TTB reserves the right to request clarification and documented verification of any graphics, seals, logos, definitions or language appearing on labels. For instance, any label specifically stating that the producer is certified by an agricultural organization must have documented proof.

Terms that refer to the environmental impact of the process and packaging rather than the product itself are usually acceptable. These words and phrases may not modify mandatory information on brand labels, but might appear as additional information after review on a case-by-case basis.

 


S3: I've seen ads for home distilling equipment in catalogs ("turn wine into brandy," "make your own essential oils"). Is it legal to buy and use a still like that?

Under Federal rules administered by TTB, it depends on how you use the still. You may not produce alcohol with these stills unless you qualify as a distilled spirits plant. However, owning a small still and using it for other purposes is allowed. You should also check with your State and local authorities - their rules may differ. You should also review our Home Distilling page.

A still is defined as apparatus capable of being used to separate ethyl alcohol from a mixture that contains alcohol. Small stills (with a cubic distilling capacity of a gallon or less) that are used for laboratory purposes or for distilling water or other non-alcoholic materials are exempt from our rules. If you buy a small still and use it to distill water or extract essential oils by steam or water extraction methods, you are not subject to TTB requirements. If you produce essential oils by a solvent method and you get alcohol as a by-product of your process, we consider that distilling. Even though you are using and recovering purchased alcohol, you are separating the alcohol from a mixture -distilling.

 

 


S11: FAQs regarding age statements on whisky labels.

Is an age statement required on a whisky label?
The TTB regulations at 27 CFR 5.74  require an age statement on the label of any whisky that has not been aged for at least four years. This requirement applies to any whisky produced by mixing or blending if the youngest whisky in the mixture or blend has been aged for less than four years. An age statement is optional for any whisky that is four years old or more, unless the label makes a representation as to age or maturity. See 27 CFR 5.74(f) for rules applying to age, maturity, and similar representations.
 
What is the "age" of a whisky?
The TTB regulations at 27 CFR 5.1 define the term "age" to mean the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers. For bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and for straight whisky other than straight corn whisky, the "age" is the period during which the whisky has been stored in charred new oak containers.
 
Do the format rules for mandatory age statements also apply to optional age statements?
The regulations at 27 CFR 5.74(b)provide that optional age statements must appear in the same form as required statements. See 27 CFR 5.74for additional information about optional age statements.
 
What information must be included in an age statement?
The age of the whisky must be stated in days, months, or years, as appropriate. The age may be understated, but the age may not be overstated. See 27 CFR 5.74(b)(4) for the requirements regarding disclosure of aging in reused barrels for certain products.
 
How should age be stated if the whisky consists of a mixture or blend of whiskies with different ages?
If the whisky contains no neutral spirits, the age must be stated either as the age of the youngest whisky, or as a statement that includes the age of each whisky in the mixture or blend, and the percentage of that whisky in the mixture or blend. If percentages are listed, they must be based on the percentage of the finished product, on a proof gallon basis, contributed by each listed whisky, and the percentages listed must add up to 100%. If the whisky contains neutral spirits, see 27 CFR 5.74(b)(2)for rules that apply to statements of age and percentage.
 
Can the age statement include minimum or maximum ages?
As noted above, age may be understated, but may not be overstated. A minimum age (such as "aged at least __ years") is acceptable, but a maximum age (such as "aged for less than ___ years") is not acceptable.
 
I am bottling a straight whisky that consists of one straight whisky that has been aged for 3 years and another straight whisky that has been aged for 2 years. The older whisky makes up 60% of the mixture, on a proof gallon basis, and the younger whisky makes up the remaining 40%. Can I simply label the product as having been "Aged for less than 4 years"?
No. The statement "aged for less than 4 years" does not satisfy the requirements of 27 CFR 5.74(b)(4)for an age statement, and it creates a misleading impression as to the age of the product. You may choose to label the product with an age statement that reflects the age of the youngest whisky ("Aged 2 years") or you can set out the percentage of each whisky, with its age (60% straight whisky aged 3 years; 40% straight whisky aged 2 years").
 
What are examples of acceptable formats for age statements?
The following formats are acceptable:
_____ years old.
____ months old.
Aged _____ years.
Aged at least ____ years.
Aged a minimum of ____ months.
Over ____ years old.
Aged not less than ____ years.
___% whisky aged __ years; __% whisky aged ___ years.
 
What are examples of age statements that are not acceptable?
TTB will not approve labels with the following age statements, because they list a maximum age instead of a minimum age, and thus may mislead consumers as to the age of the product:
Aged less than ____ years.
Under ____ years old.
Aged not more than ____ years.
 

Last reviewed/updated 3/17/2014

 


S6: How do I obtain a "student permit" to demonstrate alcohol production for a school science project?

Have you heard about the science fair project or school project where a student:

  • Builds a homemade still,
  • Lets leftover food scraps ferment and turn into alcohol,
  • Burns the alcohol in a lantern, and
  • Compares the alcohol to other sources of energy?

A. Under current law and regulations, we cannot allow you to conduct experiments involving distillation of alcohol at your home.

As an alternative, Federal law allows us to issue a permit for an alcohol fuel plant (AFP). Under this type of permit, experiments with alcohol fuels can be conducted at locations properly qualified with TTB.

Here's what you need to do to qualify:

  • An authorized representative of your school (a teacher or other school official) must complete and forward an application form 5110.74 to us to establish a small AFP at your school.
  • The experiment must be conducted at your school under appropriate adult supervision.
  • The school official must tell us how long the experiment will last. They may allow for additional time in case your experiment is selected for additional competition or display at a regional or area science fair.
  • The school official must describe the adult supervision that will be provided. We require this because we are concerned about the safety of children handling hazardous materials and using distillation equipment with alcohol even with adult supervision.

These steps apply primarily to students who are in elementary through high school. Make sure your application is filed as soon as possible to allow enough time for us to process it. You cannot begin the experiment until we issue you a permit.

Application form 5110.74 and additional information are available from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, National Revenue Center, Spirits Unit A, 550 Main Street, Room 8970, Cincinnati, OH 45202-3222. You may also contact us by phone at 877-882-3277, or submit an online inquiry.

 


S14: I produce and bottle distilled spirits for sale only within my own state. Do TTB regulations on formulas, labeling, and standards of fill apply to my products?

Formulas.  The TTB formula requirements apply to distilled spirits manufactured in the United States even if the spirits are sold exclusively in intrastate commerce (see 27 CFR 19.348).  Please note that only certain distilled spirits products require formulas. For more information about formula requirements, see 27 CFR 5.192 and 5.193TTB Ruling 2016-3Industry Circular 2018-6TTB G 2017-10, and TTB G 2016-3.

Labels. If you are bottling spirits that are not to be sold, offered for sale, or shipped or delivered for shipment, or otherwise introduced into interstate commerce, you may apply for a certificate of exemption from label approval (see 27 U.S.C. 205(e) and 27 CFR 5.23). Products covered by a certificate of exemption are generally not subject to the labeling requirements of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act), which are found in 27 CFR part 5, including the labeling rules found in Subpart H (see 27 CFR 5.121-5.130). However, these products are subject to the mandatory labeling requirements found in 27 CFR 19.517, which include some of the same mandatory information found in the FAA Act labeling regulations. For example, under this regulation, distilled spirits sold in intrastate commerce must be designated in accordance with the class and type regulations found at Subpart I (see 27 CFR 5.141-5.156). 

Health Warning Statement. Please note that all alcoholic beverages manufactured, imported, or bottled for sale or distribution in the United States must bear the Health Warning Statement as required under the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act of 1988, regardless of whether the product is sold exclusively in intrastate commerce (see 27 U.S.C. 21527 CFR 5.7(a), and 27 CFR 16.21).

Standards of Fill. Finally, all liquor bottles for domestic use must comply with the TTB standard of fill requirements, regardless of whether the bottles are intended for distribution in interstate or intrastate commerce (see 27 CFR 19.511). See also 27 CFR 5.203 for the list of allowable standards of fill.

Last reviewed/updated 02/23/2023

 


S1: How do I convert authorized standard of fill containers of distilled spirits in metric sizes to U.S. gallons?


S9: May a proprietor of a distilled spirits plant transfer bulk spirits to a distilled spirits plant, bonded wine premises, or brewery?

Distilled Spirits Plant

Yes, Federal law and TTB regulations provide, among other things, that a proprietor of distilled spirits plant may transfer bulk spirits or denatured spirits in bond to the bonded premises of any distilled spirits plant. However, spirits or denatured spirits produced from petroleum, natural gas, or coal may not be transferred to alcohol fuel plants. See 26 U.S.C. 5212 and 27 CFR 19.402-19.407, which also set forth certain requirements related to such transfers.

A proprietor of a distilled spirits plant also may transfer bulk wine to the bonded premises of another distilled spirits plant. See 26 U.S.C. 5214(a)(5) and TTB regulations at 27 CFR 19.402-19.407, which also set forth certain requirements related to such transfers.

Bonded Wine Premises

Yes, a proprietor of a distilled spirits plant may transfer bulk spirits to a bonded wine premises. See 26 U.S.C. 5214(a)(5) and TTB regulations at 27 CFR 19.402-19.407, which also set forth certain requirements related to such transfers.

A proprietor of a bonded wine premises may receive distilled spirits in bulk at their premises under the requirements of 27 CFR part 24.

BreweryNo, the proprietor of a distilled spirits plant may not transfer bulk spirits to a brewery. Federal law and TTB regulations restrict the use of a brewery and receiving bulk spirits at the brewery is not listed among the authorized operations. See 26 U.S.C. 5411 and 27 CFR 25.23.
See information regarding bulk transfers of wine or beer.