Why are some alcoholic liquids allowed to be sold without restrictions, while others are taxed and illegal to sell or serve to anyone under the legal drinking age? Examples of "exempt" alcohol:

  • Vanilla extract (typically 40% ABV)
  • Bitters (often 45% ABV)
  • Cough syrup (as much as 25% ABV)
  • Mouth wash (upwards of 25% ABV)
  • Cooking wine
  • In VT you need ro be 21 or older with valid id to buy any of those items
    – Andy
    Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


The first tax on a domestic product by the U.S. government was on distilled alcohol (1791). Since then, alcohol production and sale has been aggressively regulated by the federal government, ostensibly (if nothing else) to ensure the integrity of this revenue stream.

Today, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury maintains a rich and amusing tapestry of rules. A product is legally an alcoholic beverage if it contains at least 0.5% alcohol by volume and is fit for beverage purposes.

TTB offers two different means of determining whether something is "fit for beverage purposes."

  1. Organoleptic Analysis: This is essentially a taste test by a panel of six people. If at least four agree that "the product has flavor qualities that would prevent the average person from mistaking it for an alcoholic beverage" then it is exempt from tax and regulation because it is "unfit for beverage purposes."
  2. Formulaic Fitness: A number of ingredients, when included in an alcoholic liquid in sufficient levels, render it unfit for beverage purposes (as far as the TTB is concerned).
  • How about at the state level? This is relevant since most non-tax/license law about ethanol is at the state leve.l
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 17:26
  • @user6726 - Good question, given that the AZ law you found does not seem to exclude liquids "unfit for beverage purposes" from its definition of "spirituous liquor." I wonder if in some state a shopkeeper ever lost his store and went to prison for selling mouthwash to minors?
    – feetwet
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 18:19

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