“It’s great news in terms of streamlining for the brewer,” says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade group for the majority of the 2,800 brewing companies in the United States. “It does give greater freedom and chances are beer drinkers will have more options of beers available to them.”
The rule change, announced this month by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, greenlights the use of more than 30 ingredients — including honey, certain fruits, spices and coffee — in beer recipes without getting formula approval.
It also says producers no longer need prior approval to age beer in barrels previously used to store wine and distilled spirits, a popular trend among the growing craft beer market.
Formula approvals from the agency have averaged about 70 days and are needed before brewers get their labels approved, which in itself can take more than 15 days, according to the agency.
The move acknowledges the changes to beer since the days when American brews weren’t exactly known for their diversity.
It “better reflects today’s reality, the use of common, if atypical, ingredients in beer,” says Gary Fish, founder of Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, the nation’s sixth-largest craft brewery.
At Strangeways Brewing in Richmond — where the motto is “Think Strange. Drink Strange.” — brewer Mike Hiller says that, in some cases, it’s taken brewers more than six months to get a barrel-aged beer to market.
“Brewers are going to be a little less leery of using particular ingredients ... but we’re making goofy beer one way or another,” joked Hiller, who makes beers such as Gourd of Thunder Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Woodbooger Belgian-Style Brown Ale and Cranberry Disintegration Barrel-Aged IPA.
“If we want to tweak any of our recipes then we don’t have to go through the entire process once again just to make a simple change,” he says.