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What Information Needs to Go on an Alcohol Label?

Alcohol bottle labels

Our expert guide on what essential information you need to include on an alcohol label.

It’s no secret that when it comes to the success of any consumable product, packaging has a huge part to play.

With drinks products, manufacturers are well used to playing with different bottles, seals and caps to help the product appeal to consumers, but it’s the label that holds the most power – conveying a drink’s story, ethos, flavour profile and personality. After all, the product buyer is often not the consumer!

As well as being an important sales tool, the label contains essential information and has to meet bottle labelling guidelines. Confusion and fear about what must go on alcohol labels can be a real barrier to launching a new beverage, but help is at hand!

What are the labelling rules for alcohol in the UK?

There are rules for selling spirits in the UK that, while they may seem obvious, are well worth covering. These come directly from the gov.uk website [link to Gov website]. We should also point out here that there may be slight differences in bottle labelling guidelines between the nations that make up the United Kingdom, so it’s always best to check with the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Gov.uk define a spirit drink as:

  • Intended for human consumption
  • Made from agricultural ingredients
  • Containing a minimum alcohol strength of 15% – except for egg liqueur (advocaat) which has a minimum alcohol strength of 14%

First of all, you’ll need to display the name under which the spirit is sold, and this can differ between the UK and Northern Ireland. There are 47 categories of spirit drink in Great Britain and 44 in Northern Ireland! Rarely, a spirit will not fall into any one of the categories but still meet the above definition of a spirit, in which case the label will need to display the wording ‘spirit drink’. You can sell it under more than one category name.

There are rules around the geographical area in which the drink is produced, such as Scotch Whisky or Somerset Cider, and this is known as a registered geographical indication, or GI. As with other produce, such as cheeses or teas, this protects the provenance of goods produced within a territory.

It’s essential for producers and bottlers of spirits drinks to familiarise themselves with the

specific labelling requirements outlined by regulatory authorities, such as the Food Standards

Agency (FSA), Gov UK Department of Health and The Portman Group.

Here are the key labelling requirements for spirits drinks in the UK, taken directly from Gov UK:

1. Product Name: The product name should clearly indicate the type of spirit (e.g., gin, vodka, whisky) and any specific characteristics (e.g., London Dry Gin, Single Malt Scotch Whisky).

2. Alcohol by Volume (ABV): The alcohol content must be displayed as a percentage by volume (ABV) and should be clearly visible on the label.

3. Volume of Goods: The volume of liquid in the bottle should be stated in millilitres (ml).

4. Country of Origin: The label should specify the country where the spirit was produced or bottled. If the spirit is a blend of spirits from multiple countries, the label should indicate this.

5. Name and Address of the Producer or Bottler: The label must include the name and address of the producer or bottler responsible for the product.

6. Ingredients: While not always mandatory, it is recommended to list the ingredients used in the production of the spirit. This is particularly important for spirits with allergens or specific botanicals.

7. Allergen Information: If the spirit contains any allergens, such as liquorice, sulphites, or sweeteners, these must be clearly declared on the label.

8. Lot or Batch Number: Each batch or lot of spirit should be assigned a unique identifier, such as a lot number or batch code. This facilitates traceability and quality control. This can be achieved using a duty stamp in the UK.

9. Health Warnings: Spirits labels in the UK must include government-mandated health warnings related to alcohol consumption.

The Portman Group has developed best practice guidance for drinks producers on communicating alcohol and health-related information to consumers. They operate the Code of Practice to ensure that alcohol is marketed in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not appeal particularly to those who are vulnerable.

The guidance provides icons and best practice options for on-pack labelling, including these minimum features:

  • UK Chief Medical Officers Recommendation
  • Active signposting to Drinkaware.co.uk
  • Unit alcohol content per container
  • Drinking in pregnancy symbol

Do I need a duty stamp on my spirits bottle?

Duty stamps play a crucial role in verifying that excise duty has been paid on spirits sold in the UK. By affixing duty stamps to spirits bottles, producers and distributors demonstrate their compliance with tax regulations and contribute to the integrity of the excise duty system. The UK Duty Stamps Scheme applies to spirits that meet both of the following:

  • Have an alcohol by volume of 30% or more
  • Are sold in a container that is 35 centilitres or more

If you import or make these types of products for the UK market, you’ll need to affix a duty stamp or include one on your label, unless an exception applies.

Bottle Labelling Guidelines – the Optional Stuff

While the above information is very important, this alone would make for a pretty uninspiring label! There are plenty of other features you may wish to include on your bottle labelling. Here are a few examples:

  • Tasting notes
  • The brand story
  • Barcode and/or QR code – which can link them to a website or more information
  • Serving suggestions
  • Any awards or accolades
  • Ethics and sustainability information
  • Certifications, such as vegan, organic, or membership of industry associations
  • Limited Edition or special release information
  • An e-mark – shows that a product complies with EU rules on the indication of the volume or weight and the measuring methods that you must use as a seller of pre-packaged products.
  • Contact information

Here is an example of a label design with its legally required and optional features:

Label Guidance Infographic

Here at Kettlesing Distilling, we ensure all labels that we affix to bottles through alcohol bottling are compliant with GOV UK Department of Health Regulations and the Portman Group Code of Practice. We also have a best-practice labelling guide which we have developed in-house, that we make available to our clients.

We hope this has given you some idea of where to start with alcohol labelling requirements. As experts in the distilling and bottling industry, we work closely with our clients to ensure they are fully compliant with the legal bottling requirements in the UK, and we also have plenty of experience to share from inside the industry – one of the benefits of working with a bottling partner who works with these regulations every day! Please do consult Gov UK and your local authority for more information on the regulations where you are producing your drinks product.

Partner with Kettlesing

Want to chat about what it’s like to work with a contract distiller or bottler to bring your product to market? Get in touch here.

Disclaimer: All information is correct at the time of writing. Kettlesing Distilling Company Ltd does not accept liability for any errors or omissions.

Rural Affairs, D. for E., Food &. Rural Affairs (2022) Labelling spirit drinks, GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/labelling-spirit-drinks (Accessed: 04 March 2024).