TTB has closed its lab, according to a TTB Newsletter of yesterday. This further fallout from the pandemic could have a strong and negative impact on saké and flavored vodka imports. Saké and flavored vodka are among the small number of alcohol beverage categories that have been stuck with a lab analysis requirement, during the formula and label review and approval process. TTB said:

In response to state and local stay-at-home orders, and for the safety and protection of our employees in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, all TTB laboratories are temporarily closed, pending further notice. … Due to these closures, we will not be able to process product samples or paper submissions sent to the laboratories via mail until they reopen. … During the laboratory closures, we are temporarily unable to process formula applications for alcohol beverage products, nonbeverage products, or denatured alcohol that require product samples. We will continue to process formulas that do not require laboratory sample analysis and encourage industry members to submit those formulas electronically in Formulas Online.

Many years ago, TTB mandated lab analysis for a much larger swath of the alcohol beverage industry, including imported vodka, absinthe, and even liqueurs. So far TTB is fairly quiet about what a company should do, if it wishes to seek approval on a new, imported saké or flavored vodka product during the next few months. In our view, TTB should consider allowing the analysis to be held in abeyance for a few months, until things settle down, and base the review on documents submitted by the importer. In the past, TTB would occasionally move forward on labels and formulas as “Approved Pending Analysis,” when there were good reasons. We can’t really think of a better justification than the current and difficult circumstances. The above image shows the policy on imported saké formulas from the recent past, and the below image shows the policy on imported flavored vodka from the recent past.

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