Mead Legislation

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If you’re like most people, then you have probably never given a thought to the United States legislation surrounding mead. Then again, if you’re reading this blog at all, you’re not like most people.

You see, for those of us who go in for the esoteric, vastly complicated, antiquated-rule-based games (think Cricket, German Batball, and Chaturanga), then the dizzying array of regulations surrounding mead fermentation, labeling, packaging and distribution is almost akin to a sport. A confusing, ever-changing, illogical sport.

The set of laws governing mead is a 204-page-long document known as CFR Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Don’t get cocky and think that this is related to the ATF, (the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). No, we are in fact governed by the TTB (the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), which is in fact a branch of the Treasury. Yes, fermentation legislation is governed by the US Treasury.

Many people in the meadmaking community recently learned about Ken Schramm’s issues in which the government insists that the volume of fruit (the actual weight) is more important than the amount of sugar it adds to the beverage. They have stayed his label application claiming that his product is not mead on the grounds that there is more fruit than honey. This is not true, but that doesn’t matter. Let’s take a look at what the CFR Title 27 has to say on the subject, shall we? 

“The statement of composition must include enough information to identify the tax class when viewed with the alcohol content. First, the wine should be identified by the word ‘wine,’ ‘mead,’ ‘cider’ or ‘perry,’ as applicable.”

And that is it. In 204 pages there is one reference to the use of the word mead and it is “should be identified… as applicable.” Every other reference concerns the specific use of the term “Honey Wine.” This, unfortunately, is another whole kettle of fish which we don’t have time to discuss at present.

Groennfell Meadery is currently involved in a conversation with the TTB of a wholly different nature. While two of our products are allowed to be packaged in 12 oz. brown glass bottles, they claim that our third product, specifically Valkyrie’s Choice, cannot because it is not mead, but wine (despite 100% of the fermentables coming from honey). They claim that it must either be in a 375ml or 500ml bottle. To understand why they would claim this, we must travel back to the 1940s when a handful of bad eggs were trying to swindle the newly minted consumer that was the Napa Valley Wine Drinker. To make a long story short, the wine industry standardized its bottles but the beer industry didn’t.

Cider and mead are sometimes treated like beer and sometimes treated like wine meaning we need to conform to varying regulations. This is why two of our products have the volume in ounces and one has it in milliliters. Two say “Brewed by Groennfell Meadery” and the third says “Bottled by: Groennfell Meadery.” It’s all because the FDA and the TTB have different regulations.

So, to return to the sports analogy: The regulations which govern mead are like Cricket if the rules of Cricket were amended every six years by a group of individuals who had only ever come as close to Cricket as playing Golf one time on a business trip in the 80s.

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