In July last year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) ruled that beers made from substitutes for malted barley or that do not contain hops are not malted beverages, as defined by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act).
The TTB is in charge of regulating malted beverages, but its ruling means that beers made from alternative grains will be subject to food and drink labeling laws governed by the FDA, which is good news for brewers looking to take a slice of the booming market for gluten-free food and drink.
For manufacturers, the new labeling means that, among other requirements, their non-malt beers will have to carry a listing of ingredients, a nutrition facts panel, and the name of major food allergens in the product. As defined by the FDA, these are: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.
The one that is most important in this case is wheat, as most of the non-malt beers being produced are intended to be gluten-free alternatives for barley-based beer.
Manufacturers of non-malt beers are expected to comply with the new labeling requirements by January 1, 2010.
The FDA's draft guidance – "Labeling of Certain Beers Subject to the Labeling Jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration" – can be found online here.
The market for gluten-free foods and beverages has exploded in recent years, and the growth has largely been attributed to more frequent diagnosis of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by gluten, the protein in grains like wheat, barley and rye.
About 40,000 to 60,000 people in the US have been diagnosed with the disease, although the federal government estimates that there could be as many as 3m who are undiagnosed – or just under one percent of the population.