The Production of Liquor

Booze has been around for a very long time. It is generally accepted that whisky was first distilled in 1494, by the Monk Friar John Car1 but actually he was – no pun intended – a Johnny-come-lately. We know that wine was around in the time of Jesus, and even Noah, an Age before, ‘drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.’2 Beer consumption flourished in the Babylonian Empire – they had about 20 different varieties – and archaeologists have discovered Babylonian clay tablets detailing recipes for beer from 4300 B.C.3 Nothing can beat the Chinese, however, who were apparently knocking back a concoction made from rice, honey and fruit about 9 000 years ago.4

Anyway, things are a bit more controlled these days and not anyone can produce spirits, beers and wines. Licences, permits, authorisations and all manner of regulatory constraints apply – this is the purpose of the Liquor Products Act 1989.

The Act forms part of a fair web of statutes governing alcoholic beverages. Specifically, it deals with their production, whilst the other statutes relate to their sale and distribution.

There are different kinds of alcoholic products regulated by the Liquor Products Act.

  • Wine is produced from the juice of grapes, according to a certain specific fermentation process.
  • An alcoholic fruit beverage (e.g. apple cider) is produced from the juice of fresh fruit that is in such a condition that fermentation can occur without diluting that juice.
  • Spirits are produced by the distillation of a fermented vegetable article. For example: vodka comes from potatoes, whisky from grains, tequila from the agave plant (a kind of aloe), and so forth. Spirit-based liquors are produced by treating spirit in a certain way – some liqueurs are good examples.
  • Grape-based liquor is produced from grapes of which the juice has undergone complete or partial alcoholic fermentation and then treated in a certain manner. Sherry and Brandy are good examples.

A. Licences, permits and certifications

  1. It is a criminal offence to sell or produce for sale, any product with an alcohol content of more than one per cent (but not including beer, sorghum beer, or medicine) unless it is a ‘liquor product’ as defined and therefore regulated by the Act.5

  2. You may not import or export such a product, except under the authority of an official permit, and commit an offence if you do.6

  3. It is a crime to fail to comply with the conditions and restrictions contained in any such import or export certificate or permit.7

  4. You may not make any unauthorized change to any certificate issued in terms of the Act and commit an offence if you do.8

B. Restrictions on additives (or extractions)

  1. Whether before, during, or after the fermentation process, it is a criminal offence to add any substance other than as prescribed by Regulation for the particular alcoholic product.9

  2. It is also a criminal offence to remove any substance other than as prescribed by Regulation.10

  3. It is also a criminal offence to add any substance, or remove it, other than in the manner prescribed by Regulation.11

C. Special authorisation on some alcoholic products

The Minister of Agriculture may authorise certain persons to produce or sell a sacramental beverage (i.e. communion wine) or a beverage obtained by the fermentation of the juice of oranges together with cane-sugar, or the alcoholic fermentation of honey.12

The authorisation may incorporate a variety of conditions and restrictions, such as: the premises at which the beverage may be produced, the volume that may be produced annually, the alcohol content, the substances that may be added or removed, etc.13

  1. It is a criminal offence not to comply with these conditions and restrictions.14

D. Labelling

  1. No person shall sell any liquor product in a container smaller than five litres, unless all the particulars of the product are indicated on its label, in the manner prescribed by Regulation; and on the package of such container. It is an offence to contravene this provision.15

  2. It is an offence to indicate the alcohol content of a liquor product in any way other than by means of a percentage per volume.16

  3. It is a criminal offence to use any of the following terms (or their Afrikaans equivalents) in connection with the sale of a liquor product:
    • ‘wine’ – unless the product is wine, or the word appears in the name of a class of products designated by the Minister and the product is in such a class – for example, ‘sparkling wine’;17
    • ‘spirit’ – unless it is a spirit; or, again, it forms part of a class designation for the liquor product concerned;18
    • ‘alcoholic fruit beverage’, ‘grape-based liquor’, ‘spirit-based liquor’, ‘specially authorized liquor’ - unless it forms part of a class designation for the liquor product concerned;19
    • any class designation, or something deceptively similar, unless it is the applicable class designation for the liquor product concerned;20
    • the name of any country (or a word, or expression, containing such name or partially consisting thereof) in a manner which could indicate that such liquor product is a product of a country other than its true country of origin;21
    • any name, word, expression or reference in any manner likely to create a false or misleading impression as to the nature, substance, quality, age, origin, or other properties of the product.22
  4. Unless specially authorised in connection with the sale of wine, it is an offence to use:
    • the name under which a wine-making area in the Republic is generally known;23
    • the designation of any vine cultivar, or any word or expression that is similar - e.g. Pinotage;24
    • any indication that the wine concerned was produced in a particular year, or from grapes harvested in a particular year;25 and
    • the word(s) ‘estate’ or ‘vineyard’, ‘origin’, ‘vintage’, ‘superior’ (or a translation in any language whatsoever) or any similar word or expression.26

E. Schemes

  1. The Minister may establish a scheme in respect of a liquor product derived from grapes, with a view to further regulating particular matters relating to the production and sale of such liquor products.27 It is an offence for a person whose participation in a scheme has been approved, to fail to comply with the provisions of that scheme or a condition determined in terms thereof.28

F. Inspectors and officers

  1. It is an offence to refuse to assist an officer of the Wine and Spirit Board, or to obstruct him, in the exercise of his powers or the carrying out of his duties.29

  2. If you fail to furnish information, or to give an explanation, or to answer a question put to you by such an officer you commit an offence.30

  3. It is a crime to furnish an explanation, or an answer or information which is false or misleading.31

  4. You may not tamper with a sample (of a liquor product) taken by such an officer and you commit an offence if you do so.32

  5. It is also an offence to sell, remove or tamper with anything seized by an officer because he suspects its involvement in the commission of an offence in terms of the Act.33

  6. If you falsely pretend to be an analyst designated by the Director-General in the Department of Agriculture for testing and examining liquor products you commit a criminal offence.34

G. General

  1. It is a crime35 to disclose any information acquired in the performance of functions under the Act which relates to the business or affairs of any person.36

  2. It is an offence to use an analysis certificate, or any results recorded in such certificate, in any manner whatsoever, for the purposes of advertisement.37

  3. A principal shall be criminally liable for any act (or omission) by a manager, representative, agent, employee or family member amounting to an offence, unless he satisfies the court that he neither connived at nor permitted the act or omission, that he took all reasonable steps to prevent the act or omission, and that the offensive act or omission did not fall within the scope of the authority or employment of such person concerned.38

  1. – although see the Viking theory at – ‘Who First Made Whisky?’ 

  2. Genesis 7:21 (King James Version). 

  3. – ‘Concise Timetable of Beer History.’ 

  4. – ‘Who Invented Beer?’. 

  5. Section 4(1) and (2) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  6. Section 16(1)(a) and section 17(1)(a) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  7. Section 23(1)(c). 

  8. Section 23(1)(k). 

  9. Section 5(3)(a), section 6(3)(a), section 7(3)(a), section 8(3)(a), section 9(3)(a) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  10. Section 5(3)(a), section 6(3)(a), section 7(3)(a), section 8(3)(a), section 9(3)(a) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  11. Section 5(3)(b), section 6(3)(b), section 7(3)(b), section 8(3)(b), section 9(3)(b) read with section 23(1)(b). 

  12. Section 10. 

  13. Section 10(4). 

  14. Section 23(1)(c). 

  15. Section 11 read with section 23(1)(a). 

  16. Section 11(2)(e) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  17. Section 11(2)(a) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  18. Section 11(2)(b) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  19. Section 11(2)(c) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  20. Section 11(2)(d) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  21. Section 11(2)(f) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  22. Section 12(1) read with read with section 23(1)(a). 

  23. Section 11(3)(a)(i) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  24. Section 11(3)(a)(iii) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  25. Section 11(3)(a)(iv) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  26. Section 11(3)(a)(v) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  27. Section 14. 

  28. Section 23(1)(d). 

  29. Section 23(1)(e) and (f). 

  30. Section 23(1)(g). 

  31. Section 23(1)(g). 

  32. Section 23(1)(h). 

  33. Section 23(1)(i). 

  34. Section 23(1)(j). 

  35. Except if for the purpose of the performance of functions under the Act; in terms of or a scheme; or for the purpose of legal proceedings under the Act, or with the written consent of the Minister. 

  36. Section 21(1) read with section 23(1)(a). 

  37. Section 20(4) read with section 23(1)(b). 

  38. Section 26.