Visit the website of any US brewery, winery, or distillery, and you’re likely to be asked to confirm your age–either by entering your date of birth or confirming that you are over the age of 21. Age-gates, as they’re called, are not legally required. So, why are they so common?
The answer is self-regulation. Interstate advertising in the United States is generally regulated by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In the case of advertising alcoholic beverages, the FTC has largely deferred to self-regulation by the major beverage trade groups, especially the Beer Institute, Wine Institute, and Distilled Spirits Council. Each of these trade groups, as well as the Brewers Association, has in turn adopted marketing and advertising rules for their industries. The FTC periodically reviews these rules, and industries’ members compliance with them. Assuming the trade groups are doing a good job of ensuring their members’ compliance with rules approved by the FTC, self-regulation is likely to continue.
Website age-gates are required for manufacturers under the codes adopted by the Brewers Association, Beer Institute, Wine Institute, and Distilled Spirits Council. In addition, the FTC’s Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry Reports for 2008 and 2014 pointed to age-gates as recommended practices.
The FTC’s 2014 Report specifically recommended that consumers visiting the website of an alcoholic beverage manufacturer be required to enter their date of birth, rather than simply confirming that the visitor is of legal drinking age. The FTC also encourages industry members to take advantage of age-gating technologies offered by social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. These recommendations were adopted as part of the Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code, the only industry code update since the FTC’s 2014 report.