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The King of Beer
August 12, 2014 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator: For years, one man has approved virtually every beer label design in the United States. Among brewers, he’s a tyrant. A legend. A pedantic pain in the ass. Brewers and legal experts speak of him in hushed tones, with equal parts irritation and reverence. "He’s the king of beer. His will is law," said one lawyer who works with him regularly. The lawyer asked to remain anonymous, for fear of crossing the beer specialist. "There’s one dude in the government who gets to control a multibillion-dollar industry with almost no supervision." And he goes by the name "Battle."
posted by Cash4Lead (79 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
He rejected a beer called Bad Elf because it featured an “Elf Warning,” suggesting that elves not operate toy-making machinery while drinking the ale. The label was not approved on the grounds that the warning was confusing to consumers.

And elves!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:19 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Let it never be said that the federal bureaucracy is solely a refuge of the indolent.
posted by silby at 9:25 AM on August 12, 2014


Okay, I was in the camp of "guy maybe going a little too far in pursuit of truth in advertising" until I got to this part:
Reaching the federal official by phone, Dillman called him “Mr. Martin.” A big mistake: Battle’s predilection for being particular apparently extended from beer applications to his name.

“You want to be addressed as ‘Battle?’” a confused Dillman replied, recounting the story.
People who insist on being referred to by nickname in the conduct of their official duties are invariably assholes.
posted by Etrigan at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2014 [30 favorites]


Frankly, I'm fine with the government turning down people that want to get cutesy with warnings on alcohol. Mostly he sounds like the kind of old-school government employee who works really goddamn hard and keeps the wheels turning.
posted by tavella at 9:27 AM on August 12, 2014 [17 favorites]


"Almost no supervision" is a pretty surprising claim from a lawyer. This guy has a boss in the Treasury department, and the dept ultimately reports to both the President and Congress in different ways, not to mention court oversight of the reportedly-vague advertising guidelines.

People who insist on being referred to by nickname in the conduct of their official duties are invariably assholes.

How do we know it's a nickname and not his preferred, "real" name?
posted by muddgirl at 9:27 AM on August 12, 2014


How do we know it's a nickname and not his preferred, "real" name?
Any brewery that wants to market its wares in this country needs to get it through Kent “Battle” Martin, giving the federal official extraordinary power.
And even if it's his actual first name, calling him "Mr. Martin" shouldn't be a "mistake".
posted by Etrigan at 9:29 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wonder what this guy would be doing if he wasn't doing this. Editing dictionaries? Identifying art forgeries? Criminal mastermind?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:29 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


As bad as the guy sounds, all one needs to do is scan the multitude of crazy, off-the-wall craft-brew labels on the shelves to see that he's certainly not a killjoy or having any obvious negative effect on the business. I mean, it's not like the shelves are lined with identical white labels emblazoned with the word "BEER".
posted by Thorzdad at 9:29 AM on August 12, 2014 [39 favorites]


Last night I drank a Stone Ruination IPA and then couldn't put the bottle in the recycling bin because it was too pretty. Keep up the good work, Battle.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Exactly, Thorzdad. I'd be a bit more concerned if I hadn't witnessed the wide variety of beer labels on the shelf at the store. Looks like some quirky stuff manages to get through just fine.
posted by redsparkler at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why is approving beer labels even a proper function of government? If somebody does produce false advertising, then they should be able to be sued, but it's not something that the government needs to be involved with before the fact.

Eliminate this function of government and let this guy find productive work to do.
posted by Teppy at 9:34 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


The guy's approving, what, 120 labels per day for every working day of the year (assuming zero holidays, vacations etc.). He really can't possibly be being all that obstructionist in the vast majority of cases.
posted by yoink at 9:34 AM on August 12, 2014


Why is approving beer labels even a proper function of government? If somebody does produce false advertising, then they should be able to be sued, but it's not something that the government needs to be involved with before the fact.

I wish they had a guy like this approving supplement labels.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:36 AM on August 12, 2014 [65 favorites]


Why is approving beer labels even a proper function of government? If somebody does produce false advertising, then they should be able to be sued, but it's not something that the government needs to be involved with before the fact.

Oh yeah. That works so terrifically well with food and medicine. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty happy that just because you sell beer you're not automatically allowed to put it in bottles that label it as a cure for baldness, or for colic, or diabetes etc. etc.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on August 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


I would love to by Battle a beer and discuss his job.
posted by 724A at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2014


The guy's approving, what, 120 labels per day for every working day of the year

I hadn't actually parsed how much volume this is, but now I'm just picturing an assistant running a slideshow for him all day while he says, "Yep. Yep. Too googly. Yep. Medical claim. Too much cleavage, save that one."
posted by uncleozzy at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


Why is approving beer labels even a proper function of government? If somebody does produce false advertising, then they should be able to be sued, but it's not something that the government needs to be involved with before the fact.

It's one thing to pretend the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration never should have happened, it's another to pretend the Teddy Roosevelt administration should never have happened. I thought The Jungle was required reading in middle school English classes?

Battle on, Battle - beautiful labels without any snake-oil.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2014 [26 favorites]


I wonder what this guy would be doing if he wasn't doing this. Editing dictionaries? Identifying art forgeries? Criminal mastermind?

Fact checker for the New Yorker?
posted by sallybrown at 9:41 AM on August 12, 2014


“He’s just amazingly finicky on stupid things that don’t really achieve any government purpose,” said one brewer. “He’s implementing rules that are totally antiquated.

His job is to implement those rules, antiquated or not. If -- and I stress, if -- there's a problem here, it would seem the problem is with those rules and not with him. But I don't think there is: food labeling (and I see beer labeling as a subset of that) is situation in which it's better to err on the side of rejection --

“It gets a little perverted sometimes in that it goes too far when [he’s] looking to see if there’s any possible way for the label to [mislead]… it’s resulting in some perfectly good labels being rejected.”

Or: 'if the label could mislead someone, he rejects it.' If a label could mislead someone, it's not 'perfectly good.'

All that said, he's approved nearly thirty thousand labels this year already. Single-handedly! He should be lauded for his hard work on behalf of the government, not criticized for it.

I'd love to know the actual percentage rate for rejection vs. application, because cherry-picking a handful of cases doesn't show that a problem actually exists.
posted by cjelli at 9:44 AM on August 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


Among brewers, he’s a tyrant. A legend. A pedantic pain in the ass. Brewers and legal experts speak of him in hushed tones, with equal parts irritation and reverence.

Getting labels approved is one of the things I do at my brewery; I don't think I've met anyone who cares about the label-approval-guy at the TTB, or anyone who is aggrieved by his pedantry. Mostly we just want to know what the estimated turnaround time will be for approval, and fortunately the TTB's website has an up-to-date notification of exactly the turnaround time for approval.

They've always been totally cool by me.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2014 [41 favorites]


If you're a regulatory official and corporate lawyers are complaining about how you are too restrictive, you're probably doing the right thing.

Insisting on being referred to by nickname is a little weird, though.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:02 AM on August 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


I just wish he would standardize where the alcohol percentage was listed. It's kind of important and hard to find (if it is even listed) on a lot of American craft beer bottles.

Anecdote: I put the labels on roughly 13 million bottles of Molson's beer during my undergraduate summers. The labels came in bundles of 1000 held together by elastics and you had to whack them just right with a steel pipe so they had a perfect curve when you put them in the labeller. Otherwise they wouldn't stick to the bottle and you would jam up the machine bad. This was because humidity and storage conditions could warp the bundles. It was possible to put labels on upside down ( I did twice that I know of) so you had 1000 bottles of upside beer labels. If Quality Control caught it they would get pulled off the line and put in cases to be dumped. If QC missed it workers would rush them through and wink at each other.

On a couple of occasions entire productions run were done with the wrong labels and they would be packed up and shipped to discount wholesalers in the US. Mostly because it was the US state by state label requirements for exported Molson Golden or Molson Canadian that would get messed up rather than Canadian production runs which were standardized for the province they were done it (at the time Canada didn't allow beer to cross provincial borders).

Painted labels came in during my last summer. You still had to run the beer through the labeller just without actually doing anything. One guy would be in charge of three machines but still boring beyond belief. The only excitment was a bottle jam which would result in 600-1000 bottles a minute slamming into each other and producing a cloud of glass shards you would have to go through to turn the machine off.
posted by srboisvert at 10:02 AM on August 12, 2014 [23 favorites]


Meh, I have a hard time working up sympathy for alcohol producers when they don't even have to list ingredients on their labels like every other foodstuff imaginable has to.

There are plenty of beautiful, clever, and even subversive beer labels out there, but it seems like the article starts out from the position that labeling laws are prima facie government oppression, bahgawd, and leaves you to guess what the regulations even are with nothing to go on other than a few context-free examples played up for maximum absurdity.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 10:09 AM on August 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


I just wish he would standardize where the alcohol percentage was listed.

Or at least make sure it CAN be found quickly. I am really not interested in super high ABV stuff, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who have the opposite problem.
posted by selfnoise at 10:15 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the nickname-insistence is sort of like the seemingly unreasonable riders tactic for touring musicians.
Van Halen requested in the technical rider that a bowl of M&Ms be provided in their dressing room with the brown ones removed. Failure to do so would not only mean that the band would not perform, but the venue would still have to pay the full fee. The objective of this wasn't due to any excesses on the part of the band, but was a method to determine how much attention to detail the crew at a local venue paid to the requests specified in the rider. Should the bowl be absent, or if brown M&Ms were present, it would give band members reason to suspect other, legitimate, technical and safety issues were also being performed poorly or were outright overlooked. David Lee Roth stated in his autobiography that this request was made as a result of faulty workmanship at a venue on an earlier tour which nearly cost the life of a member of Van Halen's road crew. He added that at one venue where he found brown M&Ms, the management's failure to read weight requirements in the rider resulted in the band's equipment sinking through the floor and causing over $80,000 of damage.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


It might be a bit irritating for beer producers but I'm not sure rejecting beer labels qualifies as either 'awesome' or 'extraordinary' power.

Danish 'India Dark Ale' sounds nice.
posted by biffa at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2014


It does make me think a little less of the TTB that they'd apparently only have one person doing the tens of thousands of approvals that come in each year. That might have been fine in the 70s when the volume of requests was much lower, but at this point, it's just not a job that I think a single person can adequately do. What was the number someone gave for how many requests he's processing per work day, 120? No well-run organization would force a person into that sort of workload. Even if he took it on willingly, there's no reason to let someone take on that kind of responsibility by themselves.
posted by Copronymus at 10:18 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


but it seems like the article starts out from the position that labeling laws are prima facie government oppression, bahgawd, and leaves you to guess what the regulations even are with nothing to go on other than a few context-free examples played up for maximum absurdity.

The TTB even has a FAQ for regulations.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:20 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why is approving beer labels even a proper function of government? If somebody does produce false advertising, then they should be able to be sued, but it's not something that the government needs to be involved with before the fact.

Eliminate this function of government and let this guy find productive work to do.


Right? Outsourcing regulation to litigants is the reason our legal system, product safety, medical costs, etc. are so much better than they are in all the other modern first world democracies! In fac- . . . Hold on, I'm being buzzed by the control room. (Mmm hmm. Yea. We actually suck in those areas comparatively? Uh huh. Yyyyyyea. A terrible idea, you say? Mmm hmm. Ooookay. Gotcha.) I'm back! Forget I said anything.
posted by slkinsey at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


This year, Battle has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels, the only fact his press handler would provide.

Using 2080 working hours per year, that's more than 14 labels per hour. Or about 4 minutes per label.

Although is sounds from the article that he works odd hours.
posted by Kabanos at 10:22 AM on August 12, 2014


Any brewery that wants to market its wares in this country needs to get it through Kent “Battle” Martin, giving the federal official extraordinary power.

And even if it's his actual first name, calling him "Mr. Martin" shouldn't be a "mistake".


Maybe he's decided to be called Kent Battle. Or just Battle, no Kent or Martin. A preferred name is a strange thing to object to, considering how common it is (I have a coworker that doesn't like to be called Joseph. Another one who did not legally change their last name on marriage but prefers to be called by their spouse's last name).
posted by muddgirl at 10:26 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Eliminate this function of government and let this guy find productive work to do.

On the contrary, the problem seems to be the lack of colleagues for him to spread the work around. He's doing everything he can to optimize every second of his workday, down to standardizing on how he's addressed.

If the government was inclined to provide his department a little more funding, it's entirely possible that the officials would have the time available to give marginal cases a little more consideration.
posted by ardgedee at 10:31 AM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Copronymus: It does make me think a little less of the TTB that they'd apparently only have one person doing the tens of thousands of approvals that come in each year.

Sadly, the number and classification of positions often involves bureaucrats who oversee a number of other, wholly unrelated tasks. Think less of bureaucracy, not any particular agency.

And from the article: Battle has become a symbol for the TTB’s nonsensical rules.
“He’s just amazingly finicky on stupid things that don’t really achieve any government purpose”


Welcome to bureaucracy. Decisions are made with a heavy hand or someone drunk with power, or lacking a thorough understanding of the scope of their implications, or in a different time and haven't been updated in decades, or a combination of all of the above. I've worked in government agencies, and have families that work in other government agencies and consult with government agencies. Rules are set and forgotten, or designed to be flexible then implemented by some overly rigid individuals.

At the same time, without any of these rules, we'd be in a much worse place. Government can be optimized, but rarely from within, and definitely not by someone who only holds their position for 2-4 years, and has to oversee everything else, too. We just need a few all-seeing, all-knowing, benevolent dictators. You know, some really swell AI.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:36 AM on August 12, 2014


Oh and to address the comment specifically: Why should enforcement only be post-hoc? Seems to me it'd save everybody time and money to have a guy spend a couple minutes rejecting a label and having it re-submitted later. It sounds incredibly productive and efficient to me, compared to the damage, time, and expenses involved in defending a label in court after a violation is found to cause harm.
posted by ardgedee at 10:37 AM on August 12, 2014 [12 favorites]


I've had Bad Elf. It was Not Good. Cutesy labeling was the least of its problems.

I would love to have this guy's job, if he got to keep all the label samples. Imagine walls full of framed gorgeous labels!

Why is approving beer labels even a proper function of government? If somebody does produce false advertising, then they should be able to be sued, but it's not something that the government needs to be involved with before the fact.

This is known as the Let Them Kill Ya, Then Sue 'Em theory of regulation. The problem with it is, you're dead.
posted by emjaybee at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


you know this guy sounds like a Terry Pratchett character. I also would love to Buy Battle a Bottle and hear about his work.

The thing that bugs me the MOST about bear labels is when they CLEARLY state "MI $.10 deposit" but then meijer's machine either can't read the bar code or it rudely states that "this brand not accepted at this store." Like, WTF meijer? I bought this beer at this store, damn you.
posted by rebent at 10:40 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


On the contrary, the problem seems to be the lack of colleagues for him to spread the work around.

Two things about that:

1 -- No one in this article complained about how long it takes him to approve labels. Judging by the TTB's posted processing times, his is the most efficient office. I suppose it's possible that there are twice as many wine and spirit labels running through other offices, but he doesn't seem to be lacking for support. Seventeen days to get anything from the federal government is pretty damn good.

2 -- In the presence of "only vague regulations" (as the article puts it), more inspectors mean more judgment calls. That's not good either.
posted by Etrigan at 10:40 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is known as the Let Them Kill Ya, Then Sue 'Em theory of regulation. The problem with it is, you're dead.

Yes, but better that 1,000 people die from your products than you having to toil under the TYRANNY of proper labeling. Truly we live in a benighted age.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:41 AM on August 12, 2014 [16 favorites]


Outsourcing regulation to litigants is the reason our legal system, product safety, medical costs, etc. are so much better than they are in all the other modern first world democracies!

In my experience, the vast majority of people who argue that preemptive controls such as by regulation should be deprecated in favor of post-facto remedies in litigation also advocate for tort reform.

Addressing potential harms in litigation after the fact is economically wasteful for a lot of reasons: often, for instance, the harm to any particular individual is too slight to make litigation worthwhile, but the tortfeasor is able to accrue a benefit from a large number of individuals. Not only is this economically inefficient in the instance, it also has knock-on effects on the efficiency of the market generally by introducing greater uncertainty into a consumer's decisions.
posted by gauche at 10:43 AM on August 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


The other thing is that the courts are, you know, part of the government. "Out of the hands of government and into the legal system!!!" is a pretty lulzworthy demand.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:53 AM on August 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


Wait...unless...the idea is for the legal system to be unavailable! NO WAI!

Seriously, though, it only makes sense as a coherent argument if one assumes that a major part of the argument is basically a lie.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:56 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


"There’s one dude in the government who gets to control a multibillion-dollar industry with almost no supervision.”

Also, just because this is one of my pet peeves about How Americans Talk About Government: it seems an awful lot like this lawyer is calling for the creation of another job to supervise this one guy's work. I can understand why a lawyer might want to do that, insofar as it might create the potential for a second chance to argue for his clients, but it's illuminating of an important principle that you almost never hear anybody express: accountability comes at the expense of efficiency. Put another way, accountability requires oversight (i.e., bureaucracy) and therefore costs money.

This isn't to say that accountability itself is a bad thing, nor that efficiency is a bad thing. And in my ideal world I'd like to see more of both out of government and out of private industry, but it's not a foregone conclusion that both can be had at the same time. I rather suspect that there are multiple potential stable points on an accountability-efficiency continuum and that the selection of a given point is a matter of irreducible preference.

There's a counter-argument to be made that bureaucracy, as a mode of oversight, often has the effect of diffusing responsibility in such a way that the accountability is lost, but this is, I think, an argument with much broader implications than for government alone.
posted by gauche at 10:57 AM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


By comparison, TTB reviews and approves more than 100,000 wine labels per year. Not sure how many inspectors it has for that task.
posted by sixpack at 10:58 AM on August 12, 2014


Is 1 label per 4 minutes really a high workload? He's not a marketer or graphic designer. He just needs to read the label and determine if it's misleading. That should take seconds. I can imagine sitting in front of a computer looking at one image, reading all the text and glancing over the image then hitting spacebar to approve or delete to deny then being shown the next one.

I imagine that initially you'd need to spend a lot of time consulting all the relevant laws, but after your thousandth label it should just be look, read, approve/deny, repeat.

It would be draining to do this for years, but I can imagine it as being not too bad given the wide variety of labels.
posted by HappyEngineer at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Where can I get the laws changed to ban Comic Sans from beer labels? Because I'd be all for Battle taking care of that too.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is this real? Seems kind of crazy....
posted by ph00dz at 11:13 AM on August 12, 2014


Is 1 label per 4 minutes really a high workload? He's not a marketer or graphic designer. He just needs to read the label and determine if it's misleading. That should take seconds.

Sure--but it rather kills the "he's an unreasonable asshole who goes out of his way every time to find some inexplicable reason to reject every label he sees" angle of this piece. In fact it seems he quietly and efficiently approves the vast majority of the labels submitted to him. Plus the fact that we have someone in this very thread who works getting labels approved for a brewery and has never heard of this guy rather suggests this whole bit is a beat-up.
posted by yoink at 11:14 AM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


One of the jobs of the federal government is regulating interstate commerce. It sounds like this is working exactly as designed.

Since some folks believe that all government is evil and must be stopped (while doing everything in their power to prove that it doesn't work), of course they're going to treat somebody doing their job like the anti-Christ.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:33 AM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


The allegedly-egregious objections cited in the article seem reasonable to me, with perhaps the exception of the playing-card-heart one.

The idea that it would be rude to call him "Mr. Martin" upon first meeting seems unnecessarily cranky, though.
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on August 12, 2014


I can imagine sitting in front of a computer looking at one image, reading all the text and glancing over the image then hitting spacebar to approve or delete to deny then being shown the next one.

I'd wager that the bulk of his time is spent on typing up the reasons for the denials.
posted by Etrigan at 11:47 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Plus the fact that we have someone in this very thread who works getting labels approved for a brewery and has never heard of this guy rather suggests this whole bit is a beat-up.

I'd also like to point out that last fall the TTB hired some new auditors and they did a training pseudo-audit at our brewery and I spent like a week with the deputy director of the TTB and we specifically had conversations about label & formula approval and the workload associated with it and I've still never heard of this guy before this article.

I mean, I'm sure he's awesome, and the only label we've ever had rejected was because it was adorned with little lime wedges despite the beer not being made with limes, so whatever. More power to him. The article does not match my experience in this industry whatsoever.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:51 AM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


That might have been fine in the 70s when the volume of requests was much lower, but at this point, it's just not a job that I think a single person can adequately do.

Let me tell you what doesn't happen in government offices:
"Oh, one person was doing this job yesterday, but you want to hire two people to do it tomorrow? Sure thing!"
posted by entropone at 11:52 AM on August 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


The other thing is that the courts are, you know, part of the government. "Out of the hands of government and into the legal system!!!" is a pretty lulzworthy demand.

Especially if the reason is "efficiency"!
posted by entropone at 11:55 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Efficiency of profit making, not of response or redress.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:14 PM on August 12, 2014


Oh come on. If he had said "Call me Kent" when addressed as Mr. Martin, nobody would call him an asshole. That's a pretty standard response when first introduced. The fact that he goes by a name that's not on his birth certificate shouldn't matter.
posted by headnsouth at 12:18 PM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Every example they cited seemed somewhat eye roll inducing, yet justifiable.
posted by latkes at 12:41 PM on August 12, 2014


"Almost no supervision" is a pretty surprising claim from a lawyer. This guy has a boss in the Treasury department, and the dept ultimately reports to both the President and Congress in different ways, not to mention court oversight of the reportedly-vague advertising guidelines.

I can't help but think of J. Edgar Hoover.

Back to the topic - I'd like to see some of his non-eye roll inducing examples. No doubt they don't make such good stories, but they would at least help us laymen see what he's doing for us. (Not necessarily dissing his work, just curious.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:47 PM on August 12, 2014


If he had said "Call me Kent" when addressed as Mr. Martin, nobody would call him an asshole. That's a pretty standard response when first introduced.

If the other person in the conversation remembers calling him "Mr. Martin" as "A big mistake" (as noted in the article), then it sounds like there was more to it than "Call me Battle."

And frankly, "Battle"? That's not "My dad's Mr. Martin" or "I don't like the full version of my given name." That's insisting on being called "Captain" because you have a bass boat and a hat.
posted by Etrigan at 12:50 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the complaint about beer labelling in regards to alcohol and ingredients and nutrition. Craft brewers have been pushing for those things for a while.

It took a while to get ABV listed everywhere because the argument was "people will go for the super strong beers to get drunk faster - think of the kids!"

The ingredients bit is fought a bit by the big guys who don't want to disclose all the strange things that go into that can of macro lager. The TTB does have a review process for non-standard beer ingredients though. They just reduced their workload by adding a whole bunch of fruits, oak, chocolate, etc to the standard allowed list.

And it'll be a cold day before the TTB allows nutrition labels because they worry that the impression given by a nutritional label is that "beer is nutritional and good for you"
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:52 PM on August 12, 2014


If the other person in the conversation remembers calling him "Mr. Martin" as "A big mistake" (as noted in the article), then it sounds like there was more to it than "Call me Battle."

We really have no context for that conversation. Maybe it was the first time and "Battle" was unreasonably aggressive about it. Maybe it was the 100th fucking time that the other person in the conversation had "forgotten" his stated preference and "Battle" was reasonably pissed off. It's a dumb comment to include in an article about this guy and makes it seem more like a hit piece than a quirky profile.
posted by muddgirl at 12:58 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


And it'll be a cold day before the TTB allows nutrition labels because they worry that the impression given by a nutritional label is that "beer is nutritional and good for you"

What's strange to me, and makes me think the blockage is on the industry end rather than TTB's end, is that IIRC hard cider contains nutritional facts. According to random googling, that's because cider doesn't contain malted grains, which seems pretty arbitrary to the benefit of beer brewers.
posted by muddgirl at 1:01 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's no way any of my off-the-wall homebrew labels would get past this guy. :\
posted by xedrik at 1:02 PM on August 12, 2014


Is this real? Seems kind of crazy....
There certainly seems to be someone named Battle Martin at TTB. PDF from their website.
posted by MtDewd at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2014


2 -- In the presence of "only vague regulations" (as the article puts it), more inspectors mean more judgment calls. That's not good either.

I'm not so sure that's true in a useful way. Look at it like this - if he has a sudden health event, he's going to be replaced by somebody who is effectively brand new with the regulations at hand. So in that case it'll go from having somewhat arbitrary results on a reasonable schedule to having completely capricious results returned at random time, while somebody trains themself.

I don't think there's a way around that without having at least two people regularly participating, even if that means sometimes they need to consult with each other on things. In this case that would also lighten the load on each of them, which is probably beneficial. If nothing else, such a high load could easily lead to health problems, making my scenario above self fulfilling.

Which is to say it seems like he desperately needs an apprentice, even though that will surely slow down approvals for some time.
posted by atbash at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


if he has a sudden health event, he's going to be replaced by somebody who is effectively brand new with the regulations at hand

According to MtDewd's PDF link, there are three "label specialists," including Mr. Martin. I strongly suspect the whole article is just slow-news-day nonsense.
posted by yoink at 1:28 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


The approval of this label (featuring cartoon spermatozoa) surprised me.
posted by exogenous at 1:36 PM on August 12, 2014


According to MtDewd's PDF link, there are three "label specialists," including Mr. Martin. I strongly suspect the whole article is just slow-news-day nonsense.

Not only are his coworkers identified in that PDF, but so are his bosses. If it's still slow next week, I'm willing to be interviewed as an unnamed source about how my coworker Carol has an offputting smell.
posted by muddgirl at 1:58 PM on August 12, 2014


Beer does more than Battle can......
posted by thelonius at 3:20 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


...Battle does more, the beer can!
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2014


muddgirl: "What's strange to me, and makes me think the blockage is on the industry end rather than TTB's end, is that IIRC hard cider contains nutritional facts. According to random googling, that's because cider doesn't contain malted grains, which seems pretty arbitrary to the benefit of beer brewers."

I love that reddit thread, where almost every claim has someone contradict them and with the opposite claim.

Does the FDA do a pre-approval process for packaging labels as well, or do they take the approach that you should go ahead and maybe get punished/sued later?
posted by RobotHero at 4:25 PM on August 12, 2014


I think it's awesome he has some weird nickname that he forces everyone to use. It's a power play, a show of dominance. Don't we always complain about how industry forces infiltrate and subvert government, which is supposed to act as a check on their power?

"Oh, you're calling from Anheuser-Busch, you make $15 billion a year in revenue and you spend $10 million a year on lobbyists? Yeah, well, no beer comes to the market, but through me. So it's "Battle" or get fucked." I like it, the guy has gumption.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


This label doesn't promise anything...
posted by Alles at 5:20 PM on August 12, 2014


Robothero, I can't speak to anything outside the soap and cosmetics side of the FDA, but there are explicit rules about labeling for soap and cosmetics. That's why some cosmetics come with a wall of text brochure in 2pt type in the package. Fines for mislabeling start at about $25k, assuming the mislabel did not endanger a consumer. One of my larger startup costs when I was considering adding mineral makeup to my line, was attorney fees for compliance. That's the reason boutique cosmetics have very little footprint in the market. The cost of compliance research and labeling legal work was 14x more expensive than ingredients, labor and packaging combined. I wish the FDA had someone like Battle that could just approve a damn label.
posted by dejah420 at 5:49 PM on August 12, 2014


mrbigmuscles: "I think it's awesome he has some weird nickname that he forces everyone to use. It's a power play, a show of dominance."

I'm also wondering if there's some alternate motive, kind of like the Van Halen "no brown M&Ms" rider. If you call him "Mr. Martin" he instantly knows he's talking to someone who hasn't been properly briefed.
posted by RobotHero at 6:16 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


As bad as the guy sounds, all one needs to do is scan the multitude of crazy, off-the-wall craft-brew labels on the shelves to see that he's certainly not a killjoy or having any obvious negative effect on the business. I mean, it's not like the shelves are lined with identical white labels emblazoned with the word "BEER".

OTOH, he does appear to be someone who made his way up to being an Authority Figure, built up a power base and now milks it for all it's worth exercising arbitrary power over others, just because he can; which is what human alpha-males do instead of actually pissing on their territories and underlings. Were it not for his office at the TTB, perhaps he'd be an authoritarian small-town sheriff, a bullying school principal or some other kind of vindictive petty tyrant. Fuck people like that.
posted by acb at 8:22 AM on August 13, 2014


I think I have found my dream job? Who knew.
posted by ferret branca at 8:32 AM on August 13, 2014


...built up a power base and now milks it for all it's worth exercising arbitrary power over others...

I don't even understand how you're getting that from the article. The guy has a job. He's the only one the TTB has seen fit to hire to do that job, and he's doing the job. To the extent the job involves the exercise of judgment, he's exercising judgment. I don't see anything in the article or in this discussion to indicate that the judgment he's exercising is outside of the parameters of his job.

Your comment, ending as it does with "fuck people like [this guy]" seems to me really out of place and hostile, and I'm interested to know what you're seeing that I'm not.
posted by gauche at 8:54 AM on August 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


The pushback on the name issue here in this thread surprises me. What if the preferred name to be addressed by were "Bethany" instead of "Battle"?
posted by radwolf76 at 10:37 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


radwolf76: "The pushback on the name issue here in this thread surprises me. What if the preferred name to be addressed by were "Bethany" instead of "Battle"?"

Eh, I don't care how unusual his nickname is. It's the part where he allegedly expects people contacting him for the first time to know that he not only rejects the standard polite formality of "Mr. Martin," but finds it inexplicably offensive.

However, I'm taking the whole scenario with a grain of salt, considering the article's insistent agenda for portraying the guy as a crank.
posted by desuetude at 11:07 AM on August 13, 2014


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