Published

August 13, 2014

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Tim Mak at The Daily Beast might have found the hardest-working man in Washington, D.C., who happens to be a critical player in the $247 billion American beer industry. Kent Martin, a regulator in the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau, approves every beer label and bottle in America. He also happens to go by the name, “Battle.”

Mak writes:

This year, Battle has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels, the only fact his press handler would provide. The TTB would not even provide basic biographical details about the famed regulator, much less make him available for an interview.

Battle lives for his work. Brewers talk about receiving approvals at all hours of the day and night; notices from the federal government coming in at 5 a.m., or 1 a.m.

“We kid about it a lot, but if there’s an airstrike in Washington, he’s the guy grabbing his work to go to a bunker to keep his production up,” said a source who has worked with Battle.

He’s been spotted at a craft brewers’ conference, with several laptops going at once, processing multiple beer labels simultaneously. “I’ve never seen anyone working as hard as him,” said Scott Newman-Bale, who works with Short’s Brewing Company.

Martin is a machine, approving about 133 labels daily.

Being a creative bunch, brewers have often battled with “Battle” Martin:

Battle has rejected a beer label for the King of Hearts, which had a playing card image on it, because the heart implied that the beer would have a health benefit.

He rejected a beer label featuring a painting called The Conversion of Paula By Saint Jerome because its name, St. Paula’s Liquid Wisdom, contained a medical claim—that the beer would grant wisdom.

He rejected a beer label featuring a painting called The Conversion of Paula By Saint Jerome because its name, St. Paula’s Liquid Wisdom, contained a medical claim—that the beer would grant wisdom.

He rejected a beer called Pickled Santa because Santa’s eyes were too “googly” on the label, and labels cannot advertise the physical effects of alcohol. (A less googly-eyed Santa was later approved.)

All About Beer magazine has a story about some adventures craft brewers have had in getting labels approved. One brewer got in trouble for being too patriotic:

In the early 1990s, Jack Joyce of Rogue Ales in Newport, OR, submitted his American Amber Ale for label approval. The government rejected the label, which showed an Uncle Sam-like figure hoisting a beer with the American flag fluttering in the background. Rogue, it seems, had run afoul of U.S. Code Title 4, Chapter 8, Item 1: “The U.S. flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” So Joyce redesigned the label to portray a generic pattern of red and white stripes with a single row of stars as a border.

However, he continued to use the flag design for glasses, T-shirts, tap handles, etc. until 2005, when a TTB agent, vacationing in Oregon, spotted a Rogue truck painted with the original logo. Ordered to cease and desist, Joyce repainted his trucks and destroyed or gave away between $15,000 and $25,000 worth of promotional items. He was able to salvage his tap handles by painting out the stars. “We solved that by basically desecrating the flag,” he observed ironically.

After the 2013 federal government shutdown, some craft brewers feared that the backlog of label approvals would cut into their business.

Now that's something to talk about at your next happy hour.

About the authors

Sean Hackbarth

Sean Hackbarth

Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.

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