Use of the Term Absinthe for Distilled Spirits
To: Beverage Distilled Spirits Plants, Importers, and Others Concerned.
This circular explains the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) policy regarding the use of the term "absinthe" on labels of distilled spirits products and in related advertising material.
Generally, absinthe, or absinth, is a high alcohol content, anise-flavored distilled spirits product derived from certain herbs, including Artemisia absinthium, or wormwood. Wormwood usually contains the substance thujone, which is purported to have hallucinogenic or psychotropic effects. Absinthe was popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century, particularly in France, and was often portrayed as an addictive and psychotropic beverage due to the presence of the substance thujone.
TTB and its predecessor agencies have rejected applications for certificates of label approval (COLAs) or proposals for labels with reference to absinthe because the agency frequently found that the proposed label was misleading or referenced drug use, or that the product was a health hazard.
Recently, TTB received inquiries about obtaining label approval for absinthe-related products and for the use of the term "absinthe" on COLAs. As a result of these inquiries, we are restating our position with regard to how the term "absinthe" may be used on labels and in advertisements.
TTB’S POLICY REGARDING THE USE OF THE TERM "ABSINTHE"
We approve the use of the term "absinthe" on the label of a distilled spirits product and in related advertisements only if the product is "thujone-free" pursuant to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulation at 21 CFR 172.510. Based upon the level of detection of FDA's prescribed method for testing for the presence of thujone, TTB considers a product to be "thujone-free" if it contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone. However, should the FDA set a new standard for “thujone-free,” in accordance with 27 CFR 13.51, COLAs that are not in compliance with that revised standard will be revoked by operation of regulation.
Labeling and Advertising.
In addition to the requirement that a product be “thujone-free,” TTB applies the following guidelines in approving labels and reviewing advertisements:
- Since there is no class and type understanding, the term "absinthe" may not be used as the brand name or fanciful name, or as part of the brand name or fanciful name, because otherwise it would appear as a class and type designation. 27 CFR 5.42(a)(1).
- The term "absinthe" may not stand alone on the label; it must be accompanied by additional or dispelling information so as not to appear as the class and type designation. 27 CFR 5.42(a)(1).
- Any artwork or graphics on the label, advertising, and point of sale materials using the term “absinthe” may not project images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic, or mind-altering effects. 27 CFR 5.42(a) and 5.65(a).
- TTB will include the following qualification statement on all approved COLAs showing the term “absinthe” on a label: “The finished product must be ‘thujone-free’ pursuant to 21 CFR 172.510.”
Submission of Samples.
Domestic producers and importers of products using Artemisia absinthium, or other ingredients containing thujone subject to 21 CFR 172.510, must submit a sample to the Beverage Alcohol Laboratory for thujone testing prior to seeking label approval. You must submit a 750 milliliter sample of the finished product, along with a copy of your permit and the formula for the product. For screening purposes, the method we use to determine whether the product contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone, is a liquid-liquid extraction – GC/MS method. We have posted more information on this method at http://www.ttb.gov/ssd/screening.shtml.
For information on the submission of samples and regarding laboratory analysis, please contact the Scientific Services Division by:
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
National Laboratory Center
Beverage Alcohol Laboratory
6000 Ammendale Road
Ammendale, MD 20705
Although TTB may approve the use of the term "absinthe" on the label under the standards outlined above, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for administering the laws and regulations regarding the admissibility of merchandise into the United States. COLA approval by TTB does not constitute approval for admission into the United States. We have advised CBP of our position.
If you have any questions about these labeling or advertising policies, please contact the Advertising, Labeling, and Formulation Division (ALFD). You can reach an ALFD Customer Service Specialist by:
Mail: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
Advertising, Labeling, and Formulation Division
1310 G St, NW, 4th Floor West
Washington, DC 20220
Phone: (202) 927-8140 or (866) 927-2533 (toll free number)
John J. Manfreda
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau