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Packaging regulations for alcoholic beverages

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), part of the Department of the Treasury, regulates the labeling, advertising, and marketing of alcoholic beverages in the US.

Note: Prior to January 24, 2003, the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) handled these functions. On that date, ATF's law enforcement functions moved to the Department of Justice as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (still acronymed ATF), while the tax and trade functions remained in the Treasury Department as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The regulations appear in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27 — Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; Chapter I — Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Department of the Treasury; Subchapter A —Liquors.

The quick summary

For details, read the text below, but here's a quick summary of the regulations requirements for allowed sizes and requirements for metric and non-metric units in net contents labels (which may be marked on the bottle itself rather than on the label):

 Allowed sizesMetric label required?Non-metric label required?
Wine and liquorStandard sizes onlyYesNo
Beer and suchAny sizeNoYes

The standard sizes for wine and distilled spirits are shown in their sections below.

Table of contents

Following are extracts related to package sizes and net contents labeling.

27 CFR Part 4 — Labeling and advertising of wine

Following are extracts from 27 CFR Part 4, Labeling and advertising of wine. The short version:

In general, wine must be packaged in one of the standard sizes — 50 mL, 100 mL, 187 mL, 375 mL, 500 mL, 750 mL, 1 L, 1.5 L, 3 L, and larger integral multiples of liters. The standard sizes don't apply in a few cases, explained in §4.46 and §4.70 below.

Several sections below refer to the standards of fill in §4.73, but they should refer to §4.72. Originally, §4.72 contained the non-metric standard sizes of wine bottles and §4.73 contained the metric standard sizes, but the non-metric standards expired on December 31, 1978. On July 2, 2003 (68 FR 39455) TTB removed the old §4.72 and renumbered §4.73 as §4.72, but the references to §4.73 remain.

Subpart B — Definitions.

§4.10 Meaning of terms.

Liter or litre. (a) A metric unit of capacity equal to 1,000 cubic centimeters and equivalent to 33.814 U.S. fluid ounces. For purposes of this part, a liter is subdivided into 1,000 milliliters (ml).

(b) For purposes of regulation, one liter of wine is defined as that quantity (mass) of wine occupying a one-liter volume at 20 °Celsius (68 °F).

Subpart D — Labeling Requirements for Wine.

§4.32 Mandatory label information.

(b) There shall be stated on any label affixed to the container:

(2) Net contents, in accordance with §4.37. If the net contents is a standard of fill other than an authorized metric standard of fill as prescribed in §4.73, the net contents statement shall appear on a label affixed to the front of the bottle.

§4.37 Net contents.

(a) Statement of net contents. The net contents of wine for which a standard of fill is prescribed in §4.73 shall be stated in the same manner and form as set forth in the standard of fill. The net content of wine for which no standard of fill is prescribed in §4.73 shall be stated in the metric system of measure as follows:

(1) If more than one liter, net contents shall be stated in liters and in decimal portions of a liter accurate to the nearest one-hundredth of a liter.

(2) If less than one liter, net contents shall be stated in milliliters (ml).

(b) Statement of U.S. equivalent net contents. When net contents of wine are stated in metric measure, the equivalent volume in U.S. measure may also be shown. If shown, the U.S. equivalent volume will be shown as follows:

(1) For the metric standards of fill: 3 liters (101 fl. oz.); 1.5 liters (50.7 fl. oz.); 1 liter (33.8 fl. oz.); 750 ml (25.4 fl. oz.); 500 ml (16.9 fl. oz.); 375 ml (12.7 fl. oz.); 187 ml (6.3 fl. oz.); 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz.); and 50 ml (1.7 fl. oz.).

(2) Equivalent volumes of less than 100 fluid ounces will be stated in fluid ounces only, accurate to the nearest one-tenth of a fluid ounce; for example, 700 ml (23.7 fl. oz.).

(3) Equivalent volumes of 100 fluid ounces or more will be stated in fluid ounces only, accurate to the nearest whole fluid ounce; for example, 6 liters (203 fl. oz.).

(c) Net contents marked in bottle. The net contents need not be stated on any label if the net contents are displayed by having the same blown, etched, sand-blasted, marked by underglaze coloring, or otherwise permanently marked by any method approved by the appropriate ATF officer, in the sides, front, or back of the bottle, in letters and figures in such manner as to be plainly legible under ordinary circumstances, and such statement is not obscured in any manner in whole or in part.

(d) Tolerances. Statement of net contents shall indicate exactly the volume of wine within the container, except that the following tolerances shall be allowed:

(1) Discrepancies due exclusively to errors in measuring which occur in filling conducted in compliance with good commercial practice.

(2) Discrepancies due exclusively to differences in the capacity of containers, resulting solely from unavoidable difficulties in manufacturing such containers so as to be of uniform capacity: Provided, That no greater tolerance shall be allowed in case of containers which, because of their design, cannot be made of approximately uniform capacity than is allowed in case of containers which can be manufactured so as to be of approximately uniform capacity.

(3) Discrepancies in measure due to differences in atmospheric conditions in various places and which unavoidably result from the ordinary and customary exposure of alcoholic beverages in containers to evaporation. The reasonableness to discrepancies under this paragraph shall be determined on the facts in each case.

(e) Unreasonable shortages. Unreasonable shortages in certain of the containers in any shipment shall not be compensated by overages in other containers in the same shipment.

Subpart E — Requirements for Withdrawal of Wine From Customs Custody

§ 4.46 Certificate of nonstandard fill.

A person may import wine in containers not conforming to the metric standards of fill prescribed at §4.73 if the wine is:

(a) Accompanied by a statement signed by a duly authorized official of the appropriate foreign country, stating that the wine was bottled or packed before January 1, 1979;

(b) Being withdrawn from a Customs bonded warehouse into which it was entered before January 1, 1979; or

(c) Exempt from the standard of fill requirements as provided by §4.70(b)(1) or (2).

Subpart H — Standards of Fill for Wine

§ 4.70 Application.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person engaged in business as a producer, rectifier, blender, importer, or wholesaler of wine, directly or indirectly or through an affiliate, shall sell or ship or deliver for sale or shipment, or otherwise introduce in interstate or foreign commerce, or receive therein, or remove from customs custody, any wine unless such wine is bottled or packed in the standard wine containers herein prescribed.

(b) Sections 4.70 through 4.73 do not apply to:

(1) Sake;

(2) Wine packed in containers of 18 liters or more;

(3) Imported wine in the original containers in which entered customs custody if the wine was bottled or packed before January 1, 1979; or

(4) Wine domestically bottled or packed, either in or out of customs custody, before October 24, 1943, if the container, or the label on the container, bears a conspicuous statement of the net contents, and if the actual capacity of the container is not substantially less than the apparent capacity upon visual examination under ordinary conditions of purchase or use.

(c) Section 4.73 does not apply to wine domestically bottled or packed, either in or out of customs custody, before January 1, 1979, if the wine was bottled or packed according to the standards of fill prescribed by §4.72.

§ 4.72 Metric standards of fill.

(a) Authorized standards of fill. The standards of fill for wine are the following: 3 liters, 1.5 liters, 1 liter, 750 milliliters, 500 milliliters, 375 milliliters, 187 milliliters, 100 milliliters, 50 milliliters.

(b) Sizes larger than 3 liters. Wine may be bottled or packed in containers of 4 liters or larger if the containers are filled and labeled in quantities of even liters (4 liters, 5 liters, 6 liters, etc.).

(c) Tolerances. The tolerances in fill are the same as are allowed by §4.37 in respect to statement of net contents on labels.

27 CFR Part 5 — Labeling and advertising of distilled spirits

Following are extracts from 27 CFR Part 5 — Labeling and advertising of distilled spirits. The short version:

In general, distilled spirits must be packaged in one of the standard sizes — 50 mL, 100 mL, 200 mL, 375 mL, 750 mL, 1 L, and 1.75 L — except for cans, whose standard sizes are 50 mL, 100 mL, 200 mL, and 355 mL.

Subpart B — Definitions

§ 5.11 Meaning of terms.

Gallon. U.S. gallon of 231 cubic inches of alcoholic beverage at 60 °F.

Liter or litre. A metric unit of capacity equal to 1,000 cubic centimeters of distilled spirits at l5.56 °C (60 °F.), and equivalent to 33.814 U.S. fluid ounces. A liter is subdivided into 1,000 milliliters. milliliter or milliliters may be abbreviated as “ml”.

Subpart D — Labeling Requirements for Distilled Spirits

§ 5.32 Mandatory label information.

There shall be stated:

(a) On the brand label:

(4) In the case of distilled spirits packaged in containers for which no standard of fill is prescribed in §5.47, net contents in accordance with §5.38(b) or §5.38a(b)(2).

(b) On the brand label or on a back label:

(3) In the case of distilled spirits packaged in containers conforming to the standards of fill prescribed in §5.47 or §5.47a, net contents in accordance with §5.38(a), §5.38a(a), or §5.38a(b)(1).

The references to §5.38a appear to be obsolete, as there is no such section.

§ 5.38 Net contents.

(a) Bottles conforming to metric standards of fill. The net contents of distilled spirits shall be stated in the same manner and form as set forth in the standards of fill in §5.47a.

(b) Bottles not conforming to the metric standards of fill. The net contents for distilled spirits bottled before January 1, 1980, in bottles not conforming to the metric standards of fill, shall be stated in the same manner and form as set forth in §5.47(a), except for cordials and liqueurs, cocktails, highballs, bitters and specialties, as specified by the Director. The net contents for these specialty products shall be stated in U.S. measure (i.e., gallons, quarts, pints, fluid ounces).

(c) Net contents marked in bottles. The net contents need not be marked on any label if they are legibly blown, etched, sandblasted, marked by underglaze coloring, or otherwise permanently marked by any method approved by the appropriate ATF officer on the side, front, or back of the container in an unobscured location. containers of 200 ml or greater capacity shall bear letters and figures of not less than one-quarter inch height.

(d) Qualifying statements. Words or phrases qualifying statements of net contents are prohibited.

Subpart E — Standards of Fill for Bottled Distilled Spirits

§ 5.45 Application.

No person engaged in business as a distiller, rectifier, importer, wholesaler, or warehouseman and bottler, directly or indirectly, or through an affiliate, shall sell or ship or deliver for sale or shipment, or otherwise introduce in interstate or foreign commerce, or receive therein or remove from customs custody any distilled spirits in bottles unless such distilled spirits are bottled and packed in conformity with §§5.46 through 5.47a.

§ 5.46 Standard liquor bottles.

(a) General. A standard liquor bottle shall be one so made and formed, and so filled, as not to mislead the purchaser. An individual carton or other container of a bottle shall not be so designed as to mislead purchasers as to the size of the bottles.

(b) Headspace. A liquor bottle of a capacity of 200 milliliters or more shall be held to be so filled as to mislead the purchaser if it has a headspace in excess of 8 percent of the total capacity of the bottle after closure.

(c) Design. A liquor bottle shall be held (irrespective of the correctness of the stated net contents) to be so made and formed as to mislead the purchaser, if its actual capacity is substantially less than the capacity it appears to have upon visual examination under ordinary conditions of purchase or use.

(d) Exceptions — (1) Distinctive liquor bottles. The headspace and design requirements in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section do not apply to liquor bottles that are specifically exempted by the appropriate ATF oficer, pursuant to an application filed by the bottler or importer. (2) Cross reference. For procedures regarding the issuance, denial and revocation of distinctive liquor bottle approvals, as well as appeal procedures, see part 13 of this chapter.

§ 5.47 Standards of fill (distilled spirits bottled before January 1, 1980).

This section, no longer in effect, listed the standard non-metric sizes: 1 gallon, 12 gallon, 1 quart, 45 quart, 1 pint, 45 pint, 12 pint, 18 pint, 110 pint, and 116 pint (brandy only).

§ 5.47a Metric standards of fill (distilled spirits bottled after December 31, 1979).

(a) Authorized standards of fill. The standards of fill for distilled spirits are the following:

(1) For containers other than cans described in paragraph (a)(2), of this section — 1.75 liters, 1.00 liter, 750 milliliters, 500 milliliters (Authorized for bottling until June 30, 1989), 375 milliliters, 200 milliliters, 100 milliliters, 50 milliliters.

(2) For metal containers which have the general shape and design of a can, which have a closure which is an integral part of the container, and which cannot be readily reclosed after opening — 355 milliliters, 200 milliliters, 100 milliliters, 50 milliliters.

(b) Tolerances. The following tolerances shall be allowed:

(1) Discrepancies due to errors in measuring which occur in filling conducted in compliance with good commercial practice.

(2) Discrepancies due to differences in the capacity of bottles, resulting solely from unavoidable difficulties in manufacturing such bottles to a uniform capacity: Provided, That no greater tolerance shall be allowed in case of bottles which, because of their design, cannot be made of approximately uniform capacity than is allowed in case of bottles which can be manufactured so as to be of approximately uniform capacity.

(3) Discrepancies in measure due to differences in atmospheric conditions in various places and which unavoidably result from the ordinary and customary exposure of alcoholic beverages in bottles to evaporation. The reasonableness of discrepancies under this paragraph shall be determined on the facts in each case.

(c) Unreasonable shortages. Unreasonable shortages in certain of the bottles in any shipment shall not be compensated by overages in other bottles in the same shipment.

(d) Distilled spirits bottled before January 1, 1980. Distilled spirits bottled domestically before January 1, 1980, may be marketed after December 31, 1979, if such distilled spirits were bottled in accordance with §5.47. (See §5.53 for similar provisions relating to distilled spirits imported in original containers.)

Subpart F — Requirements for Withdrawal From Customs Custody of Bottled Imported Distilled Spirits

§ 5.53 Certificate of nonstandard fill.

(a) Distilled spirits imported in original containers not conforming to the metric standards of fill prescribed in §5.47a shall not be released from Customs custody after December 31, 1979:

(1) Unless the distilled spirits are accompanied by a statement signed by a duly authorized official of the appropriate foreign country, stating that the distilled spirits were bottled or packed prior to January 1, 1980; or

(2) Unless the distilled spirits are being withdrawn from a Customs bonded warehouse or foreign trade zone into which entered on or before December 31, 1979.

(b) Distilled spirits imported in 500 ml containers shall not be released from Customs custody after June 30, 1989:

(1) Unless the distilled spirits are accompanied by a certificate issued by the government of the appropriate foreign country, stating that the distilled spirits were bottled or packed prior to July 1, 1989; or

(2) Unless the distilled spirits are being withdrawn from a Customs bonded warehouse or foreign trade zone into which entered on or before June 30, 1989.

27 CFR Part 7 — Labeling and advertising of malt beverages

Following are extracts from 27 CFR Part 7 — Labeling and advertising of malt beverages. The regulations for beer do not specify standard sizes, and the net contents are expressed in non-metric units.

Subpart C — Labeling Requirements for Malt Beverages

§ 7.22 Mandatory label information.

There shall be stated:

(a) On the brand label:

(4) Net contents (except when blown, branded, or burned, in the container) in accordance with §7.27.

§ 7.27 Net contents.

(a) Net contents shall be stated as follows:

(1) If less than 1 pint, in fluid ounces, or fractions of a pint.

(2) If 1 pint, 1 quart, or 1 gallon, the net contents shall be so stated.

(3) If more than 1 pint, but less than 1 quart, the net contents shall be stated in fractions of a quart, or in pints and fluid ounces.

(4) If more than 1 quart, but less than 1 gallon, the net contents shall be stated in fractions of a gallon, or in quarts, pints, and fluid ounces.

(5) If more than 1 gallon, the net contents shall be stated in gallons and fractions thereof.

(b) All fractions shall be expressed in their lowest denominations.

(c) The net contents need not be stated on any label if the net contents are displayed by having the same blown, branded, or burned in the container in letters or figures in such manner as to be plainly legible under ordinary circumstances and such statement is not obscured in any manner in whole or in part.

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