Clarification: Spirits Labels Have Always Shown Alcohol Content

A tip of the  hat to Lisa Hawkins, senior vp-public affairs, at the Distilled Spirits Council, for correcting a 35-year-old misunderstanding on my part.  In writing about the DISCUS Serving Facts initiative, I stated that up until recently alcohol content statements on spirits have been prohibited to avoid "strength wars."  When I'm wrong, I'm really wrong!  Here's the historical background, courtesy of Lisa:

Unlike most wine and beer products, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act has required distilled spirits products to include alcohol content (typically expressed by alcohol by volume – a.b.v. – or “proof”) on their labels since 1935.

The statutory requirements with respect to alcohol content do differ among the three beverage alcohol categories, however.

The Act requires alcohol content statements for wines with an alcohol content of over 14 percent alcohol by volume, leaving such statements optional for wines with an alcohol content below that level. The Act, when originally enacted, prohibited such statements on malt beverage labels, unless required by State law. But that prohibition was overturned in 1995 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rubin v. Coors Brewing Company, 514 U.S. 476 (1995). These alcohol content statements are now optional for malt beverage products, unless the product contains any alcohol derived from added nonbeverage flavors or other added nonbeverage ingredients (other than hops extract) containing alcohol.

The new labeling commitment DISCUS  announced Wednesday adds to the other information already provided to consumers about the contents of spirits products by including serving size as well as the calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat per serving size.  As we said, that is a significant change.

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Jamie Larson
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