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The 2015 Alcohol Beverage Sampling Program Results are in…

Norris McLaughlin Liquor Law Blog, Legal Liquor, Ted Zeller, Attorneys at Law

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently released its 2015 Alcohol Beverage Sampling Program (ABSP) results. The ABSP Program is designed to protect the public by ensuring the accuracy of alcoholic beverage labels and to prevent against misleading labels. Since 2008, the TTB has been conducting random samples of alcoholic beverage products in the marketplace and compiling the results in an annual survey.

To conduct the survey, the TTB purchases products that are available to consumers in the marketplace and brings them to TTB laboratories to conduct testing for things such as alcoholic content and ingredients.  Additionally, the TTB reviews all bottle labels to ensure that they comply with the product’s registered Certificate of Label Approval (COLA).

Before a product is allowed to enter the marketplace, the manufacturer must obtain a COLA which approves the design, layout, text, typeface and information contained on the bottle’s label. By law, certain information must be printed on the label, and the types of information vary by product, whether malt beverages, wines or spirits. The ABSP survey ensures that the manufacturer is selling products with the approved descriptive label, without any unauthorized changes.

Last year’s ABSP reviewed a total of 450 products, including 154 distilled spirits, 158 malt beverages, and 138 wines.

Some highlights of the 2015 ABSP results are as follows:

  • The most common compliance issue identified was that the alcoholic content of the product did not match the label and was outside of the set regulatory tolerance (i.e. variation in alcoholic content from the percentage stated on the bottle)
    • For distilled spirits, the TTB permits a loss of 0.15% alcohol by volume, but does not tolerate any increase in alcohol by volume
    • For malt beverages, the TTB permits a difference of 0.3% alcohol by volume, whether above or below what is stated on the label
    • For wines containing between 7% and 14% alcohol by volume, the TTB permits a difference of 1.5% alcohol by volume, whether above or below what is stated on the label
    • For wines containing over 14% alcohol by volume, the TTB permits a difference of 1.0% alcohol by volume, whether above or below what is stated on the label
  • Numerous labels did not match the approved COLA because they contained revisions from the approved label that were not permissible, meaning the manufacturer should have submitted an amended COLA form to obtain TTB permission for the changes
  • Numerous products lacked the appropriate government or Surgeon General’s warning on the label

To view the ABSP results in full, please visit:

2015 Sampling Program Results – Distilled Spirits, Malt Beverages, Wine.

If you have questions about the ABSP, COLAs or other alcoholic beverage questions, please contact an attorney in our Liquor Law Practice Team.