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Bourbon cannot contain any additives whatsoever, regardless of whether it is labeled as "straight." The use of coloring, flavoring, or blending materials in a whiskey other than a straight whiskey is only allowed if 'customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage.' Bourbon does not customarily include this usage, so it cannot have any additives (regardless of whether it is straight bourbon). The relevant regulation is 5.23(a)(2).
Additives are allowed for rye whiskey (not to exceed 2.5% of total volume) if it is not labeled as straight. In practice, the only rye that I know of which contains additives is Templeton Rye. Otherwise, I think you would be hard-pressed to find an American rye that contains additives. Theoretically, additives would be allowed for other types of American whiskeys (wheat, etc.) that are not labeled as straight, but I haven't seen this definitively stated by the TTB (as it has for rye), and the TTB isn't known for being consistent in the application of the rules.
The rules governing American whiskey are labyrinthine and in need of an overhaul in my opinion. Some relief might be on the horizon because the TTB recently opened up a period of public comment on suggestions for modifications to the rules. One likely outcome is the creation of an American Single Malt whiskey category and relief for foreign makers of single malt (Scotland is already excluded) from having to mature in new, charred oak barrels for sale in the US (if they want to use the term "malt whisky" on the label). The TTB hasn't been consistent in applying this rule - some Japanese and Indian single malts have entered the US market after aging in used barrels, but the TTB has given some small producers trouble. One that comes to mind is St. George Distillery in England, which had to develop separate whiskies aged in new, charred oak barrels for sale in the US. This makes no sense at all!
Templeton was probably the most deceptive of the so called "craft" bottlers. Of all the lawsuits that were filed in the last couple of years for false marketing claims, I believe Templeton was the only company that had to pay any damages. Not only that, but they settled the case, so they expected that they would lose.
what I hear, the TTB is severely underfunded. It doesn't have adequate
resources to properly review the large number of labels that are submitted to
it from all of the new American craft whiskey producers.
Consequently, some labels that don't appear to conform with the laws make it
through the approval process and appear on the shelves. I would really like to
see an overhaul of the rules, but a uniform enforcement of the existing laws
would be a welcome change.
A good thing about the American whiskey industry is that most producers, especially the big ones, enjoy healthy competition but will step in to help each other if one of them encounters a problem or mishap. I don't know if this will continue as the old guard of master distillers passes away and retires: Elmer T. Lee is already gone; Parker Beam is terminally ill but still has some input at Heaven Hill; Jim Rutledge recently retired from Four Roses; Ken Pierce recently retired from Barton 1792; Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey is still going strong, but he can't last forever. Hopefully their replacements will continue the spirit of competition and cooperation, but that remains to be seen.
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