Hard Cider Legislative Update

Hot on the heels of the craft beer revolution, hard cider is experiencing its own renaissance. Small labels are proliferating and widely available at retail locations, and cider bars are opening in major cities across the country. Hoping to capitalize on the craze, even larger producers like Stella Artois and Miller Coors are getting in on the action with Cidre (marketed towards women who would ordinarily choose white wine) and Smith & Forge (marketed towards men who would ordinarily choose beer). With so many new producers and products on the market, the confusing regulatory framework surrounding cider is now in the spotlight. Cider (including perry, or pear cider) has long resided in a legal grey area because it is regulated like wine (as it is made with fermented fruit), but often packaged and distributed like beer. Many consumers also treat cider as a substitute for beer, although this is changing (as Stella Artois is hoping with Cidre). This has led to many practical problems that states and the federal government are wrestling with. Below is an overview of recent legislative issues pertaining to cider – stay tuned for updates.

Federal Regulation

As TTB treats cider like wine for registration and labeling purposes, cider producers must register as a bonded winery, pay tax and follow other rules for winery operation per 27 CFR part 24, including TTB-enforced wine label requirements. However, the FDA, and not the TTB, has jurisdiction over the labeling of “diluted wine and cider” that contains less than 7% ABV.

Further complicating matters, TTB does not always treat cider like wine for the purposes of taxation. Depending on the sugar content of apples and the production technique, cider can be taxed like beer (if ABV is less than 7%), wine (if ABV exceeds 7%), or sparkling wine (if CO2 levels exceed a certain level).  As explained by the United States Association of Cider Makers:

Because many cider producers are small, craft operators, who rely on natural raw materials, they often have little ability to predict and control the precise alcohol content and carbonation level of their product. Meanwhile, cider consumers expect a somewhat high level of carbonation, equivalent to that of most beer.

To address these issues, Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont are pushing legislation introduced last fall by Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (S 1531/ HR 2921) that would change the Internal Revenue Code to create a specific definition for hard cider (which would include pears) and tax it at the same rate as beer. The definition would also include a higher level of carbonation and align the allowable alcohol-content with the natural sugar content of apples (at least one-half of 1% and less than 8.5% ABV).

California

As mentioned in a previous Booze Rules post, AB 779 now permits a beer manufacturer who produces more than 60,000 barrels of beer per year to also manufacture cider. Until now, anyone who wanted to produce cider in California needed to obtain a winegrower’s license. This is still true for smaller craft producers, as the licensing exception only applies to larger operations. It is yet to be seen whether the small producers will demand equal treatment.

Colorado

HB 1346, backed by AB InBev and Miller Coors, would have allowed companies that make beer and also have an interest in a Colorado distribution company to import cider products directly without having to go through a specially licensed wine and spirits distributors, as cider imports to Colorado do now (because cider is classified as wine, beer distribution companies can’t directly import cider made out of state and sell it to retailers in Colorado). The bill was opposed by small producers and wholesalers who saw the legislation providing an unfair advantage to two wholesalers in the state owned by AB InBev and Miller Coors. Citing complexity and limited time remaining in the legislative session, the bill’s sponsor asked that it be tabled for future debate. More information can be found at the Denver Business Journal.

Maryland

Maryland’s 2014 legislative session included SB 0161, which amended the definition of hard cider to include pears. Hard cider in Maryland is taxed like beer (at 9 cents per gallon) and must be less than 7% ABV.

New York

As mentioned in a recent Booze Rules post, the NYSLA is proposing sweeping statutory revisions intended to revise and streamline the NY ABC law. With respect to cider, direct to consumer shipment rights would be extended to craft cider producers, and any producer with a NY direct shipping permit (including cider producers) would be able to ship products produced by others if those other producers were located within a 50-mile radius of the shipping producer. Additionally, manufacturers and “brand owners” would be able to obtain a permit to sell cider by the glass at special events. Liquor, wine and beer wholesale licenses would include the right to sell cider at wholesale.