TTB Proposal Leaves Some Terms Undefined

The recent TTB proposal to modernize spirits regulations added a host of new definitions for terms that are widely used but not defined in the regulations, including “cask strength,” “white whiskey” and “oak barrel.” Despite the voluminous nature of the TTB proposal, though, there are still a number of widely used terms that are not defined in the regulations, including the following: 

·         Single Malt:  In Scotland, a single malt is a whisky that was (1) distilled at a single distillery and (2) made from 100% malted barley.  In the US, the term has no legal meaning.  While we all assume that American whiskeys labeled as single malt adhere to the same definition as Scotch, there is no regulation to ensure that is the case.  The US definition of malt whiskey is similar to that for bourbon or rye: a whiskey comprised of at least 51% malt and stored in charred new oak, so definitely not the same as “single malt.” 

·         Single Barrel:  The new regulations make it clear that aging stops when a whiskey leaves its initial barrel, but it doesn’t define the term “single barrel” which is quite prevalent.  

·         Moonshine:  Traditionally, moonshine meant any illegally made alcohol.  Obviously, when it appears on a label, it doesn't mean that.  These days, it seems to be used for unaged spirits, both whiskey and sugar based, but a definition would help make clear what it is and what separates it from, say, vodka or white whiskey. 

·         Small Batch:  Since the proposed regulations came out, a lot of people have noted their failure to include a definition for “small batch,” which is, indeed, a frequently used term that is not defined in the current regs.  The problem is that there is no standard definition for small batch – it can mean anything. Rather than defining it, I’d favor a regulation that requires a producer to list the number of barrels that go into anything labeled small batch.  

·         Straight Applejack: Applejack is another name for apple brandy. In the current regulations, there is a specific definition for blended applejack which, similar to blended whiskey, is apple brandy blended with neutral spirits. Some apple brandy makers use the term “straight applejack,” presumably to differentiate the product from blended applejack, but while there is a definition for straight whiskey in the regulations, there is no definition for straight applejack.  It would seem logical that a bottle of straight applejack should have to comply with the same requirements as straight whiskey – be aged for at least two years and be free of additives, but there’s nothing in the current regulations that requires that.  

Remember, if you feel strongly about one of these terms, you can submit comments on the TTB’s proposal for new regulations until March 26.