New liquor laws run the gamut from arcane to absurd
The tangle of state laws concerning wine, beer and spirits – and many exceptions to the so-called “tied-house” laws separating the production, distribution and sales of alcoholic beverages – are constantly in flux and result in much bizarre, absurd, absurdly specific and arcane legislation, though the legislative cups also runneth over with mundane adjustments.
It might be reassuring to know that, if the world ended tomorrow, the only things to survive would be cockroaches and Steiners. The Assembly has made sure that if we are living in a state of emergency, Californians will still be able to belly up to the bar.
A law that went into effect Jan. 1 lets booze-makers and distributors do their parts during a disaster, making specific changes to “tied-house” restrictions, which generally prohibit a manufacturer, winegrower, manufacturer’s agent, California winegrower’s agent, rectifier, distiller, bottler, importer, or wholesaler from providing, basically, anything of value to any person engaged in operating, owning, or maintaining any off-sale licensed premises such as a liquor store or bar. However for some time, beer manufacturers and distributors have been able to provide services such as cleaning of tap lines and equipment such as taps, with only one catch – this is only allowed during a time of declared state of disaster. The new law (AB 573) extends this exemption during a state of disaster proclaimed by the governor to all alcoholic beverage manufacturers and wholesalers.
The craft brewer movement may have prompted the Assembly to add to the official definition of “beer.” Formerly, beer had been legally defined to include ale, porter, brown, stout, lager beer, small beer, and strong beer. This week “beer aged in barrels previously used to contain wine or distilled spirits” proudly joined the list thanks to a new provision (AB 1812).
The number of licenses to sell alcoholic beverages is regulated by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), and the number of licenses that may be granted is limited by The Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. Of course, there are always exceptions. Such as the one specified by a new law that expands by five per year the number of licenses that may be issued in “any county of the 18th class.” According to the current California State Code, this includes only Marin, with Sonoma County narrowly missing out on a bump in licenses.
An exception to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, which generally prohibits manufacturers, winegrowers, bottlers, importers, wholesalers, and others from performing certain activities, allows these parties or their authorized unlicensed agents, to provide, free of charge, entertainment, food, and distilled spirits, wine, or nonalcoholic beverages to consumers at an invitation-only event in connection with the sale or distribution of wine or distilled spirits, with a host of restrictions.
One new law (AB 252), detailing many restrictions on licensees serving alcohol at invitation-only events states the reason for these conditions: “That it is necessary and proper to require a separation between manufacturing interests, wholesale interests, and retail interests in the production and distribution of alcoholic beverages in order to prevent suppliers from dominating local markets through vertical integration and to prevent excessive sales of alcoholic beverages produced by overly aggressive marketing techniques.”
Another bill (AB 2184) specifically allows “the appearance of a person employed or engaged by an authorized licensee at a promotional event held at the premises of an off-sale retail licensee for the purposes of providing autographs,” under certain condition, including a stipulation that no purchase be required by customers to obtain the autograph.
The Assembly must have thought long and hard about the value of online advertising when it passed a bill (AB 2349) that expressly allows manufacturers and makers to list bars and restaurants on their websites.
Sen. Lois Wolk was clearly looking out for the Napa Opera House (which is in her district), when she authored a bill (SB 1531). It specifically added to the exceptions to the gift-giving prohibition in the tied-house laws for donations made by the holder of “a winegrower’s license whose licensed premises of production are located within the counties of Lake, Mendocino, Napa, or Sonoma … to an opera house.”
For ABC license holders conducting contests and sweepstakes can be a tricky thing. If you are a winery or distillery considering holding such a contest, better have your team of lawyers review a law that went into effect Jan. 1 governing them. The raft of restrictions include many provisions that seem aimed at ensuring sweepstakes not become drinking contests. For instance, used caps, corks and other packaged material may not be requirements of entry; and then there’s the edict that simply says,“No contest shall involve consumption of alcoholic beverages by a participant.” Also, don’t expect that the prize is going to be your product since, “Alcoholic beverages or anything redeemable for alcoholic beverages shall not be awarded as a contest prize.” However, contradictorily, cash prizes are allowed, which one could strongly argue can be redeemed for alcoholic beverages.
Finally, a reminder not to serve alcohol to minors while driving them around. The penalty can be a much greater than a backseat of vomit.
Previously, the Passenger Charter-Party Carriers Act had put the responsibility for determining if passengers under 21 years of age were consuming alcohol on the limousine for hire or charter-part carrier. If the passenger under 21 has drunk an alcoholic beverage, the driver was to return them to the point of origin after reading to the passenger a statement that the consumption of any alcoholic beverage in the vehicle is unlawful and having them sign it.
A new law (AB 45) that went into effect Jan. 1, repeals this provision and makes a designee or, when present, the parent or legal guardian legally responsible for the consumption of alcoholic beverages by a person under 21 years of age when alcoholic beverages are consumed during the provision of transportation services. The written statement on the consumption of alcohol by persons under the age of 21 is still required to be presented by the chartered carrier. The law further makes a violation a misdemeanor on the driver under certain circumstances.
The full text of any of the above-cited bills can be found at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.