Thursday, March 8, 2012

God Bless the TTB (not)

As I have mentioned before there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in starting a brewery.  You need a Federal Brewer's Permit (Tax and Trade Bureau aka TTB) as well as a State Liquor Permit (Ohio in my case).  There's a lot involved in getting these things done and it takes a good deal of research to figure out how to do them properly.  I started the process way back in September and am happy to report that as of last week I have obtained both of the licenses needed to manufacture alcohol in the state of Ohio!

While successfully navigating this bureaucratic process is definitely a big relief, unfortunately my main reward for all of this is.....more bureaucracy.  See once you have all the applicable licenses you are really only half done.  Once you get your Federal license you immediately have to begin filling out monthly excise tax returns even if you are not yet producing beer.  Once you do the first one though you can elect to file quarterly if your volume is small enough (luckily mine is).  Along with this you must also submit a very complicated form detailing all of your production and inventory (even if its 0).  As if I don't have enough to do right?

Next up you have to get your product name/label approved by a different subsection of the TTB.  This applies even if the product will only be sold in kegs.  The labeling group is concerned with making sure you have the proper government warnings in the proper font size with the proper contrast and other mundane things like that.  If your beer recipe contains anything other than malt/hops/yeast/water (and a few other pre-approved adjuncts), chances are you will also have to file for a formula approval BEFORE you can apply for label approval (this includes spice additions such as in a Witbier).  You also have to register your products with the state and pay them a $50 fee FOR EACH LABEL.

Fear not though because the TTB has an online system to make all of this "easy" for you.  Of course I use this term VERY loosely.  In order to get access to this system you must submit an application (about 2 pages) and wait approximately 20 days for a response.  At that point you get a login and password for the label approval system (known as COLA - Certificate of Label Approval).  You must then use this login to register for access to the formula approval system which then takes another 20 days or so to get approved.  ONLY at this point can you submit your formula which can then take (you guessed it) 20 days to approve.  THEN you can submit your label which is supposed to take about a week to get approved (but is more like...20 days).

Sound confusing and daunting?  It is.  ESPECIALLY when it doesn't work properly.  If you aren't using Internet Explorer 7 the whole system most likely won't work at all.  Knowing all this I started the registration process right after I got my Federal permit (back in early January).  My first COLA login didn't work and it took a week to get ahold of someone at the TTB to fix it.  Unfortunately I didn't think to check if my formulas account would work since it is supposed to be the same login.  I just figured out last week that it doesn't.  Apparently there was an error in the account set-up (on their end) that requires me to submit a change of registration request which takes up to 30 days to process.  Only then can I properly apply for the formulas system access which puts me right back in the line I referenced earlier.  AARGH!

Don't get me wrong, when you do track down someone at the TTB they are extremely helpful.  They are an overworked and understaffed section of the government and I don't envy them.  But this also means that for me to get a beer label registered for something that contains spices it looks like it's going to take about two months.  So it looks like I will be switching around the beer launch schedule a bit.  One of the first beers I was planning to launch was a Rye Saison with peppercorns.  Looks like that will have to be postponed until the summer since I won't be able to get formula/label approval in time.  So for now it looks like the first two beers will be:

Movin' On  - American Session Ale.  A variant of the "English Best Bitter" style with some American malt and hops thrown in for good measure.  Bringing back the flavorful session ale is what this beer is all about.  ~4% ABV

Pour...Wait...Repeat - Spring Wheat Ale.  It takes winter wheat to make spring wheat ale.  Crisp and clean with enough hops to not be confused with any of those "big box" American wheat beers out there.  ~6.5% ABV

Unless something ELSE unforeseen happens.....

My first two beer "labels"