While the average drinker is likely blissfully unaware of the fact, any and all breweries that hope to sell their fermented wares across state lines must get approval from the TTB, or the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. As the sole agency responsible for regulating a multibillion-dollar industry, let's just say they have more than their fair share of leeway as to what they choose to enforce and what to let slip by.
This is something that the intrepid minds at Indeed Brewing Company are all too aware of. After all, they just lost a lengthy battle with the TTB to retain the labeling on their psychotropic-themed beer, Lavender Sunflower Date Honey Ale, or LSD.
— Ben (@BeerBrewin) April 1, 2016
While the brew shares nothing in common with lysergic acid diethylamide besides its eye-catching title, the TTB was not so amused. When Indeed Brewing Company decided to begin selling their LSD beer outside of Minnesota, they ran into a serious regulatory wall with the TTB. The TTB demanded that the Minneapolis-based brewery alter the name appearing on the beer's label.
We simply had to learn more about the superbly named beer and the brewery's struggle to navigate the regulatory landscape. Luckily, one of the brewery's co-founders, Thomas Whisenand, was gracious enough to answer a few of our questions.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Thomas. I understand the recent labeling matter for your LSD Ale involves federal regulation, but I was wondering if you had previously run into any sort of issues with the labeling on a state level. Thomas Whisenand: We never ran up against any issues in Minnesota. Our great state only requires the registration of labels and generally yields to the federal TTB when it comes to labels. Minnesota didn't really seem to care.
Who came up with the idea to name the ale after an acronym of its ingredients? Our head brewer Josh Bischoff developed the recipe while working at Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis. He originally brewed the beer there and it won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. When Josh joined our company at startup, we ended up arranging with Town Hall to bring the beer to Indeed.
How long was the back and forth with federal regulators and what impression were you left with afterwards? I've certainly heard of some wild regulatory tales—like a brewery being forced to take an image of a hamburger off their label because federal regulators believed it would imply the beer contained beef. We really tried to work with the TTB to keep some sort of reference to LSD in the label, whether the letters were bolded on the side, etc., but at the end of the day they made it very clear that they would not allow us to call out the acronym. We started talking to them about the issue months before we needed to get the cans proofed at our can manufacturer because that whole process takes a long time. There were a lot of pressures on us to get the can approved and finalized.
How do you feel about the TTB's ironclad control over beer labeling? A figure like Kent "Battle" Martin, who was a longtime veteran at the TTB and seemed to singlehandedly approve just about all beer bottles, shows how much control a single regulator can have over a multibillion-dollar industry. The TTB's system is in no way perfect. Like most government agencies they are left interpreting years and years of laws and code and trying to apply it to a moving target as industries develop. Overall, despite the fact that they did not let us do what we want to do, they have been very reasonable people to work with and the people that work there are just trying to do their job.
Do you think you will attempt to sell another beer with similarly "controversial" labeling in the future? If we can find a way to push the limits at Indeed, we will do it.
Thanks for speaking with us, Thomas.