Formulas. Do you even need one approved by TTB?

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Blog 23

Sometimes you need one and sometimes you don’t. Regardless, it is best to find out before you apply for your Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) or you will not be allowed to receive your COLA – rather, you will be directed to submit a request for Pre-COLA Product Evaluation – otherwise known as formula approval.

You don’t always need a formula approval, but rather, TTB regulations require formulas most commonly when flavoring or coloring materials are added to an alcohol beverage product. If you are putting something in the wine bottle other than juice from a grape, we suggest you don’t assume that a formula is not needed.  This is a better safe, than delayed, decision!

The actual regulations relating to formulas only shed a bit more light on the requirements, making it all the more important to contact TTB if you have any questions about whether or not a formula is required.  The regulations state that a “proprietor shall, before production, obtain approval of the formula and process by which special natural wine, agricultural wine, and other than standard wine (except distilling material or vinegar stock) are to be made.”  This begs for some definitions.  Some of these terms are in fact defined in the regulations as follows:

•    Special natural wine. A product produced from a base of natural wine (including heavy bodied blending wine) to which natural flavorings are added, and made pursuant to an approved formula in accordance with [these regulations].

•    Agricultural wine. Wine made from suitable agricultural products other than the juice of grapes, berries, or other fruits.

•    Standard wine. Natural wine, specially sweetened natural wine, special natural wine, and standard agricultural wine, produced in accordance with [these regulations].

Of course, no special natural wine, agricultural wine, or, if required to be covered by an approved formula, wine other than standard wine may be produced prior to approval by the appropriate TTB officer of a formula covering each ingredient and process (if the process requires approval) used in the production of the product.  Basically, you are stuck until the formula is approved.

On application, the proprietor shall on each formula filed designate all ingredients and, if required, describe each process used to produce the wine. The addition or elimination of ingredients, changes in quantities used, and changes in the process of production, or any other change in an approved formula, will require the filing of a new application. After a change in formula is approved, the original formula must be surrendered to the appropriate TTB officer.

TTB has a chart known as “Pre COLA Product Evaluations for Wine Products.”  This chart is designed to show a listing of numerous products and whether or not those products require a formula, for example.  Though the chart is useful, keep in mind that it is limited by the following statement on the chart: “This chart is provided as general guidance.  Particular circumstances may dictate the need for a pre-COLA product evaluation for a specific product even though no such requirement is indicated on the chart.” A helpful tool, but you certainly can’t totally rely on it.  If you have questions regarding whether or not your product needs a formula approval prior to application for your COLA, please don’t hesitate to contact our office.  While we’ll be happy to comment on our thoughts about whether or not you need a formula approval, but we’ll make sure we contact TTB for final determination prior to assisting you with your formula and COLA application.

We're Here to Help

Dear friends in the alcoholic beverage industry,

As we as an industry, nation and planet collectively try to navigate this unprecedented period the coronavirus has brought us, We’d like you to know that we at Craft Beverage Consultants (the other CBC!) are here to answer any question you may have (or not know you have) about not just surviving this time but positioning yourself to thrive as soon as social distancing measures allow your business to function at full capacity again.

If you schedule a free 60-minute phone or video conferencing consultation with me or any of my 11 highly specialized colleagues, we’ll help you figure out any of your immediate and/or longterm business needs, or “everything but the staffing,” as we like to say. We’re not high-pressure sales kind of people, especially these days, so you don’t have to worry about fending off annoying pitches. Make an appointment on our website or Facebook page, or just call us the old-fashioned way at 314-768-0220.

Our experts have a combined 150 years in the alcoholic beverage industry, with deep knowledge in everything from sales and distribution, production, and regulatory compliance to marketing, package design, event planning, IT, (social) media, hospitality, and even values-based executive coaching. 

For example, we can coach you through this season when chain accounts have canceled their spring, in some cases, fall resets and distributors have drastically cut orders. Our director of business strategy and compliance can save you money – now – on excise taxes, caution you to avoid naming your beers in ways that risk alienating your buyers (Wuhan Wheat? Coronavirus Cream Ale? Groan. No.), and secure TTB approval for the tastefully named beers you do make. Our creative director and web team can get your e-commerce site up and running and launch a social media campaign that keeps you top of mind for current and future customers. Our director of storytelling can put you in front of the press so you can tell your story to your community. 

Once you’re ready, we can look forward together. Now is the time to talk about post-virus. We all suspect the legal landscape to look different. But how? And how do you prepare yourself in a way that positions you to charge out of the gate ready to maximize the potential and profit of whatever the “new normal” turns out to be? Please get in touch so we can talk about it. 

CBC’s roster includes local and regional clients like Epic Brewing, Logboat Brewing, Piney River Brewing, SudWerk Brewing, Waves Cider and Common Cider Company, just to name a few.  The agency was founded in 2004 by Jacob and Beth Halls, formerly known as Convergence Consulting; Rick Laxague, joined as a partner in charge of sales, marketing and distribution consulting in 2019. 

Rick hase close to 20 years of experience, a bulk of which was with Crescent Crown Distributing in Arizona. His last role there was Area Sales Manager for the dedicated craft beer division, coaching and leading a sales team to be nationally recognized. In early 2014 Rick helped take a regional brewery national as their Director of National Accounts and increase that segment of their business from 30,000 cases to almost 300,000 cases in two years, an increase that equates to $4.8 million in IRI dollar sales. 

Co-founder Jacob Halls brings 17 years of experience in regulatory compliance, business strategy, marketing and craft brand management to the company. In his former position as craft brand manager for the N.H. Scheppers Distributing Company in Columbia, Missouri, Jacob helped lead his team to winning the 2016 Distributor of the Year award from New Belgium and to a nomination for the Brewers Association’s Distributor of the Year award. Jacob is also the founder and director of the South East Craft Beer Fest and several other industry specific charitable event marketing festivities. Beth Halls is Director of Business Operations and Coordinator of Charity Operations for the festivals and events run by CBC, such as the South East Craft Beer Fest, MO Bacon & Bourbon, and many more. 

Again, please reach out to us for anything.  CBC can be reached at (314) 768-0220 or at

We look forward to meeting/talking soon.


Rick Laxague, Jacob Halls, and Beth Halls