In the last several years a new category of alcoholic drinks has become ubiquitous. These are the “hard seltzers” exemplified by the White Claw family of drinks. Recently CBP considered what many have wondered, namely, what exactly is White Claw?
In ruling NY N315004 (October 13, 2020), Customs discussed the classification of White Claw hard seltzer. The product is described as flavored hard seltzer consisting of a of beer base, natural flavors, water and trace amounts of juice concentrate, cane sugar, citric acid and sodium citrate. The beer base is composed of sugar, yeast and nutrients, water and trace amounts of malted gluten-free grains.
The ruling is concise and simply states that the hard seltzer is classified as beer under HTSUS 2203.00.0060, which specifically provides for beer made from malt: in containers each holding not over 4 liters: other. This decision will likely come as a shock to people who (a) have tasted beer, and (b) have tasted White Claw, since the apparent absence of hops or barley make “beer” seem an unlikely classification for White Claw. And so goes classification sometimes.
Interestingly, HQ H243087 (January 13, 2015) Customs discussed the classification of malt beverages, including beer, in more detail. In that ruling, Customs evaluated whether four malt beverages: 'Green Apple Sparkletini Italian Spumante'; 'Raspberry Sparkletini Italian Spumante'; 'Peach Sparkletini Italian Spumante; and 'Verdi Spumante' should be classified under HTSUS heading 2203, as beer or under heading 2206, as other fermented beverages. For background on that ruling, visit The Customs Law Blog.
As with White Claw, these malt beverages were produced by adding different flavoring to a beer base.
In their classification analysis, Customs considered:
· The Explanatory Notes (ENs),
· Product definitions from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (TTB), and
· Common and popular meanings of the tariff terms.
Ultimately, CBP found that the name, appearance, character and use of the Spumante beverages were distinct from those products which are labeled, marketed, and sold as 'beer'. Therefore, as fermented beverages not falling within the scope of headings 2203 to 2205, they were classified in heading 2206.
Interestingly, Customs made the opposite determination with respect to White Claw and classified it as beer in heading 2203. While detailed analysis was not included with the ruling, it was likely consistent with analysis for the Spumante beverages. If you have any questions regarding the classification, contact any attorney at Barnes, Richardson & Colburn, LLP.