2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Federal rule change eases path to market for some craft brews

Published: June 11, 2014, 10:17 pm, by Stephanie Earls

It’s said that too many cooks spoil the broth.  Brewers will tell you the wisdom holds true for beer, too – especially when those interloping “cooks” work for the federal government.  

Last week, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau relaxed long-standing rules that required beers made with certain “exotic” ingredients – things like honey, spices and coffee – to undergo a sometimes lengthy approval process prior to hitting the market.  In addition, brewers can now age their wares in casks that have previously contained wine or spirits without getting prior approval from the agency.

 The change is expected to speed up the brew-to-you time for some craft offerings and could be a boon for the state’s creative, smaller-scale operations. 

“It’s great news in terms of streamlining for the brewer,” Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade group for the majority of the 2,800 brewing companies in the United States, told the Associated Press. “It does give (brewers) greater freedom and chances are beer drinkers will have more options of beers available to them.”

Click “more” for the full AP story.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — There’s a little less bureaucratic red tape standing between you and your next brew.

Federal officials have simplified parts of the approval process for bringing new beers to market, something that in the past could take months. The changes mean consumers could see new brews showing up in stores and bars more quickly, while brewers will enjoy greater flexibility to experiment with ingredients and production techniques.

The rule change, announced last week by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, greenlights the use of more than 30 ingredients — including honey, certain fruits, spices and coffee — in beer recipes without getting formula approval. It also says producers no longer need prior approval to age beer in barrels previously used to store wine and distilled spirits, a popular trend among the growing craft beer market.

“It’s great news in terms of streamlining for the brewer,” says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade group for the majority of the 2,800 brewing companies in the United States. “It does give (brewers) greater freedom and chances are beer drinkers will have more options of beers available to them.”

Formula approvals from the agency have averaged about 70 days and are needed before brewers get their labels approved, which in itself can take more than 15 days, according to the agency.

The move acknowledges the changes to beer since the days when American brews weren’t exactly known for their diversity. It “better reflects today’s reality, the use of common, if atypical, ingredients in beer,” says Gary Fish, founder of Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, the nation’s sixth-largest craft brewery.

At Strangeways Brewing in Richmond — where the motto is “Think Strange. Drink Strange.” — brewer Mike Hiller says that, in some cases, it’s taken brewers more than six months to get a barrel-aged beer to market.

“Brewers are going to be a little less leery of using particular ingredients … but we’re making goofy beer one way or another,” joked Hiller, who makes beers such as Gourd of Thunder Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Woodbooger Belgian-Style Brown Ale and Cranberry Disintegration Barrel-Aged IPA.

“If we want to tweak any of our recipes then we don’t have to go through the entire process once again just to make a simple change,” he says.

Founders Brewing Co. brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki says his team at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, brewery always has been encouraged to experiment with ingredients it feels will make a great beer; now that will be easier. Founders is well-known for its limited KBS, or Kentucky Breakfast Stout, an imperial stout brewed with a massive amount of coffee and chocolate and then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for a year.

“Anything that can expedite the process of bringing a new beer to beer enthusiasts is welcomed,” he said. “It allows us to be nimble.”

That bad aftertaste? At least you’ll know it’s not the bitter tang of too much federal oversight.