Before December 29, 2020, selling wine in standard 12-ounce cans was illegal in the U.S.

By Mike Pomranz
January 06, 2021
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When cracking open bubbly on New Year's Eve, you probably popped the cork on a 750-milliliter bottle—that's the most common size. But what you may not realize is that winemakers don't have unlimited packaging options: Whereas beer can be sold in any quantity, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) only allows specific size bottles and cans for producers of wine, some ciders, and distilled spirits.

As of last week, for wine, producers had just nine "standards of fill" options. But in 2021, look for more variety in your wine, cider, and spirits—at least when it comes to packaging. The TTB has approved three more wine package sizes and four more spirits package sizes effective immediately.

Credit: Bartek Wróblewski / Adobe Stock

Before these new rules, which went into effect on December 29, wine (and cider classified as wine) had to be sold in 50 ml, 100 ml, 187 ml, 375 ml, 500 ml, 1 liter, 1.5 liter, or 3 liter packages (or in larger amounts as long as the quantity was in even liters). Though that may seem like plenty of variety, a few key sizes were left out. So three new sizes that have been added to fill the voids: 200 ml, 250 ml, and 355 ml.

The 355 ml packaging is especially helpful as it equates to 12-ounces—meaning wine can now be sold in standard-sized soda and beer cans. Beyond being recognizable, these ubiquitous cans are also easier to source. "Wineries can reduce costs while expanding marketing," Jim Trezise, president of WineAmerica, explained.

Cidermakers, in particular, lobbied for the change because ciders have to follow wine packaging rules once they cross 7 percent ABV. Since most ciders are already sold in beer-style packaging, this restriction on higher ABV cider was problematic—and not just for consumer recognition. The TTB explained that "apples often naturally ferment to an alcohol by volume (ABV) level just above 7.4 percent, so producers often take steps to lower the ABV below 7 percent so that the standards of fill regulations will not apply." Additionally, the TTB continued, "[Cider producers] state that sugar levels in apples vary widely depending on climate and other factors, making final alcohol levels difficult to predict. They argue that being able to use the 355-milliliter container size will eliminate this uncertainty."

Meanwhile, the new 250 ml packaging may be the most exciting addition for winemakers, with the TTB receiving over 50 public comments supporting it. "Industry members state that the 250 milliliter is popular with consumers as a single serving size," the agency wrote, "with some further stating that this size promotes portion control and responsible drinking." Even New York Senator Chuck Schumer spoke in favor of 250 ml cans, stating that "a recent wine consumer survey by WICResearch.com concluded that 'the total wine market will grow in order to satisfy consumer preferences,' if TTB permitted sales of wine-in-a-can in a single 250 milliliter size, which the survey revealed is the single-serve size most popular with consumers."

Schumer was also one of the first to chime in when the new sizes were approved. "New York's $4.8 billion wine industry was left hanging on the vine by TTB's outdated rules and restrictions," he stated at the time. "Today's decision to allow winemakers to sell their products in the most popular-sized cans will lead to further economic growth and allow producers to capitalize on an explosive trend."

As for spirits, the new package sizes are 700 ml, 720 ml, 900 ml and 1.8 liters, all of which were added primarily for international trade purposes. Those speaking in support of 700 ml bottles suggested "the 700 milliliter size is popular in other countries, so approval will facilitate trade and allow U.S. consumers more options in imported distilled spirits," according to the TTB. Meanwhile, the agency explained that the other three sizes "received support from three Japanese trade associations and the Japanese National Tax Agency."

Interestingly, the TTB originally proposed dropping standards of fill altogether, but "is not adopting that proposal at this time." The agency cited "potential consumer confusion" as the main reason that they believed the best course of action was "instead to identify and authorize specific standards of fill."