By Rebecca Stamey-White and Erin Kelleher

It’s round three in our legislative updates for 2016.  Part three gets into the meat of licensing, qualification and tied-house ownership, our favorite issues!


ABC qualification relief, but no tied-house changes, for private equity investors  (SB 796: 23405.4)

Investors (and not just private equity investors) have struggled in California to legally make investments in licensed businesses largely for two reasons. First, upper tier investors are loathe to provide personal information and qualify with ABC, largely due to privacy concerns. Second, generally speaking, there is no de minimus exception to the California tied-house laws. Thus, an investor might have a passive investment in a fund which holds retail interests, which could prevent them from making another passive investment in a fund which holds supplier interests. ABC has struggled with these issues, out of a legitimate desire to know the ultimate owners of a licensee. The limited partners in a fund, which might technically be the ultimate "owners" of a license, however, generally do not have an active role in the management of the fund or the licensee. Further, they might not even know what investments the fund makes at all. So why qualify them or prevent them from making an investment in a licensee?

SB 796 attempts to address the first problem regarding qualification, but does not address the second and larger problem regarding the tied-house laws. Specifically, the statute will not require qualification (but still requires compliance with the tied-house laws--an important distinction of which to be mindful) of an investor in a private equity fund, provided:

  • The fund's interest is passive (no involvement with the licensee's business);
  • The fund's advisors are registered under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940 and are subject to federal reporting requirements;
  • The investor holds less than 10% of the fund (not the licensee); and
  • The investor has no control in the investment decisions of the fund.

SB 796 does not apply to hedge funds, liquidity funds, REITS, securitized asset funds or VC funds. Why not? Good question--though it is consistent with other legislative changes to the code governing alcoholic beverage licensees; that is, hyper-specific and very limited.

ABC may require the manager of the fund to execute an affidavit confirming compliance with the conditions above and affirming that the investors not being qualified do not have interests that would violate the tied-house laws. Importantly, if the manager does not have direct knowledge of any facts necessary to execute the affidavit, the statute requires them to make a direct inquiry of investors, and requires notification if any of the attested-to facts change. Ostensibly, this creates an ongoing investigation and reporting obligation of the fund.

The statute clearly states that it is not intended to permit someone from making an investment through a private equity fund in a license if such investment is not otherwise permitted. Therefore, the statute does not address the larger and more difficult problem of passive investments in licensees and the tied-house laws. Thus, while qualification might be slightly easier, private equity funds will still be limited in how they can invest in licensees.

The Craft Distillers Act of 2015 (AB 1295: 23500, 23501, 23502, 23504, 23506, 23508, 23363.1, 23771 and 23772)

AB 1295 represents a big change in the industry, and could be a huge boon to folks looking to take advantage of the recent craft spirits craze that has swept the country. Historically, spirits have lagged behind wine and beer in terms of securing exceptions to the tied-house laws, which has made it more difficult for spirits products to get to the ultimate consumer without the backing of a major distributor. The new regulations not only create a new license type for small distillers, but also create tied-house exceptions that do not exist for their larger-production counterparts. These regulations do, however, amend the tasting provisions for spirits, which are applicable to large distillers as well.

  • Basic License Permissions and Limitations (23500, 23501, 23502, 23504, ABC Industry Advisory) 

The new craft distiller’s license (Type 74) will allow the production of no more than 100,000 gallons (liquid volume and not proof gallons) of distilled spirits per fiscal year (July 1 – June 30), excluding brandy that it manufactures or is manufactured for the licensee with a brandy manufacturer’s license. Fees and qualification will be the same as for Type 4 spirits producers. Craft Distillers must report their production volume to ABC when applying for an annual renewal, and if they exceed the production cap their license will be renewed as a Type 4.

They can package, rectify, mix, flavor, color, label and export only their own products. They will only be able to sell to wholesalers, manufacturers (and their agents), winegrowers and rectifiers that hold a license authorizing the sale of spirits. Thus, Craft Distillers cannot make sales to retailers–-however note the limited DTC exception for consumers outlined below.

  • Tastings (23363.1)

The tastings statute applicable to spirits now covers both large distillers and craft distillers. Like regular distilled spirits manufacturers, craft distillers will be able to conduct tastings and charge for them on their premises, subject to the following conditions:

  • Total volume of pours cannot exceed 1.5 oz per person, per day;
  • Tastings can only include products produced (or produced for) the licensee; and
  • Servers have to be at least 21.

The statute has been changed to allow the service of cocktails or mixed drinks at the tastings, however, note that licensees can only use product that they make or that they have made for them. Therefore, cocktail creativity here is limited (or, encourages companies to start making their own mixers, which could be good for everyone).

Tastings can occur off licensed premises as well, provided they take place within permitted events sponsored by a nonprofit organization. No sales or solicitations are permitted at these events.

  • Direct to Consumer Sales (23504)

Craft distillers can sell up to 2.25 liters of their pre-packaged product at instructional tastings that occur on the licensee’s premises pursuant to the tasting provision of 23363.1 outlined above. This represents a huge win for craft distillers attempting to get their products to market, as DTC sales of spirits to consumers have until now been barred by ABC.

  • Bona Fide Public Eating Place & Private Events (23506(c) and 23508)

Like their wine and beer making counterparts, Craft Distillers may also operate a bona fide public eating public place located on, or contiguous to, their licensed premises. However, they may also serve distilled spirits, which is a big difference from wineries or breweries, who may not. Additionally, Craft Distillers may also offer beer, wine and distilled spirits, regardless of source, for sale to guests during private events. All beverages sold on the premises that are not manufactured by or for the Craft Distiller must be purchased from a wholesaler.

If the Craft Distiller loses this designation and becomes a large distiller, they may continue have events on their premises. This is a huge win for Craft Distillers who wish to market their space for events for extra revenue, something that is has become quite popular for all types of manufacturers. However, the ABC advisory indicates that if the Craft Distiller becomes a large distiller, they do not get to keep operating the bona fide public eating place under their distiller license. The bona fide public eating place on the premises would have to have a separate on-sale license, which could raise some tied-house issues.

  • Tied-House (23502(b), 23771, 23772, ABC Industry Advisory) – No Interests with Large Manufacturers, Agents, Wholesalers or Rectifiers

Craft Distiller licenses cannot be held by anyone “affiliated,” directly or indirectly, with a person who manufactures (or has manufactured for them) more than 100,000 gallons of distilled spirits per year within or without California (excluding brandy it manufactures or has manufactured for it with a brandy manufacturer license). The term “affiliate” is not generally defined in the code, though it is sometimes defined within the specific section where the term is used. Not so in this case, leaving it ambiguous as to what exactly “affiliated” means in this context. Nonetheless, the main take-away here is that Craft Distillers cannot also have Type 4 licenses or Type 5 licenses (Distilled Spirits Manufacturer's Agent licenses) in California, and also that they cannot be affiliated with larger scale manufacturers of distilled spirits located outside of California.

Additionally, Craft Distiller licenses may not be issued to anyone “affiliated” with, directly or indirectly, a wholesaler. The same ambiguity exists here with respect to the meaning of “affiliate.” The prohibition appears to only to apply to wholesale interests in the state of California (Type 17 beer and wine wholesaler or Type 18 distilled spirits wholesaler), and not to wholesale interests in other states.

Because a Craft Distiller can package, rectify, mix, flavor, color, label and export only their own products, ABC has indicated that they cannot also hold a Rectifier’s (Type 07 or Type 24) license. Craft Distillers may however use grain-neutral spirits manufactured by another distiller in the manufacture of their product.  

  • Tied-House – Interests in On-Sale Licensees (23506)

Craft distillers, or one or more of their subsidiaries of which they own at least 51% who also manufactures or produce, bottle, process, import or sell distilled spirits under a craft distiller’s license “or any other license issued pursuant this division” may hold an ownership interest in, or have a “financial or representative relationship” in up to two on-sale licensees.

Before we discuss the conditions on this important tied-house exception, we wanted to address some of the language in this statute. First, it is unclear what ABC means by the phrase “or any other license issued pursuant to this division.” This could allow Craft Distillers who have subsidiaries with other licenses to partake of this exception, where they otherwise would not have been able to do so. Second, “financial or representative relationship” is broader than the similar exception for winery interests in on-sale licensees found in 25503.15, meaning that not just ownership of the retailer is at issue for the tied-house analysis, but also the broader relationship of the Craft Distiller and the retailer.

The exception does contain a wholesaler poison pill, requiring the on-sale licensee to make all alcohol purchases (including wine and beer) from California wholesalers, except for those spirits which are made by or for the interested Craft Distiller. This could be a deal breaker for many on-sale licensees. Additionally, the number of spirits by brand offered by the off-sale licensees are limited to 15% of those produced by the interested Craft Distiller.

Importantly, this exception is not lost if the Craft Distiller eventually exceeds the production cap and becomes a regular large distiller.

Pedicabs get licenses (SB 530), no luck for beauty salons (AB 1322)

While clearly we all need to find out more about pedicabs, which can apparently carry up to 15 passengers and still qualify as pedicabs (our minds are spinning, meaning we may need to go to spin class more often), passengers may also now consume alcohol in pedicabs without requiring a license by the pedicab from the ABC. These pedicab operators must receive LEAD training from ABC and may not “sell, serve, or furnish” these beverages, but provided all the passengers are 21+, the passengers may serve themselves while enjoying the ride.

Other possible licensees or exceptions to the rule were not as lucky as the pedicab operators. A bill to provide an ABC licensing exception to beauty salons to enable them to provide alcoholic beverages incidental to the service of beauty treatments did not pass. We have a feeling the long-standing practice will not entirely go away, since it's been happening without this exception in place for many years (shhh! We ladies need our champagne!).

Larger brewers join small brewers in exception permitting on-sale retail license ownership (SB 796: 25503.28)

25503.28 used to allow only small beer manufacturers (those producing 60,000 barrels a year or less) to have an interest in up to 6 on-sale licenses, and now that privilege has been extended to large beer manufacturers in California as well.

The new privilege cannot be combined with the existing privilege under 23389(c) which allows beer manufacturers to sell their beer at 6 branch locations, 2 of which may be bona fide public eating places selling wine in addition to beer. Thus, a beer manufacturer (regardless of the number of licenses they hold alone, in common ownership with another beer manufacturer, or under common ownership with anyone operating as a on-sale retailer), may exercise on-sale retail privileges at premises where they do not manufacture beer at no more than 6 locations. Despite this, there is still no limit on the number of manufacturer locations, or the exercise of retail privileges at those locations.

Beer specifically added to non-profit temporary licenses (AB 774: 24045.6 and 25607.5)

Beer was specifically added to the statute permitting nonprofits to obtain special temporary on-sale and off-sale licenses for fundraising activities. While there are a variety of temporary off-sale licenses available for nonprofits, we most commonly see the combination of the licenses covered by 24045.1 (the on-sale general license, usually used for full bars at nonprofit fundraisers) and 24045.4 (the off-sale license that permits nonprofits to auction off bottles of wine). 24045.6 could be used by a nonprofit hosting an event featuring on-site consumption and also selling alcohol donated to it for off-sale consumption (but not using a silent or live auction to do it).  Most commonly, this privilege is used by nonprofit wine varietal or regional organizations who might conduct larger wine tastings and also sell wine donated to it by wineries participating in the event or who make special blends as a private label for the organization.  Previously, the statute was limited to wine, but now nonprofits can receive donated beer as well for their fundraising events under this section, which likely means we’ll see more beer association events structured like the wine association events.

Beer label approval no longer required by ABC, however brands must be registered with ABC prior to sale (AB 893:25200, 25201 and 25204)

Beer manufacturers and certificate of compliance holders are no longer required to furnish labels of beer containers to ABC, however every beer manufacturer, before the first sale of a brand of beer in California, must register the brand with ABC. Form 412 has been amended and is now titled the Beer Brand Registration Form. Manufacturers do not have to register brands that currently have accepted labels on file with ABC. ABC will not send a response to the brand registration form, and licensees may submit malt beverage price schedules and territorial agreements simultaneously with brand registration forms.

25200 was repealed and replaced with a provision that governs beer labels and brand registration, as well as alcohol content labeling previously included in 25204 (which has been repealed). Beer labels must meet federal malt beverage labeling regulations, and must also include:

  • the brand and class or type of beer;
  • the manufacturer’s name (can be a DBA) and address (if the beer is a collaborative effort, everyone must be identified);
  • the bottler (if other than the manufacturer); and
  • a statement of alcohol content if the beer is over 5.7% ABV.

Provisions on growlers used to be contained in 25200, but are now addressed in a separate and new section 25201. Although the citation is new, the law has not changed. 

If you're full of legislative updates, don't worry, we'll have a post next week that will help bring back your appetite! Have a great weekend!

Craft Beverages: Social Media Marketing the Effective and Compliant Way

On April 1, 2015, I stood before a packed room of distillers at the American Distilling Institute’s (“ADI”) annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky to deliver the message that there is a right, effective and compliant way to do state of the art social media marketing.  The best and brightest distilled spirits newcomers and craft favorites are members of ADI and over 1500 were at the national conference.  While every one of them recognized the importance of social media, the legalities and best practices for using social media are a mystery to many.  For those of you who couldn’t be there, here are some highlights and takeaways:

1. Which laws apply to social media?

Alcohol advertising is regulated by the federal regulators (TTB, FDA) and state ABC agencies, meaning there is dual jurisdiction and the potential for cross-violations from federal and state agencies.  There are no general rules, every state is different, and if an advertising or marketing practice is not specifically permitted, it’s often prohibited.  If it is permitted, it must follow both state and federal laws, rules and guidelines.  When marketing on social media and online, brands should tailor national advertising compliance to the most restrictive states, and event advertising is state-specific so each market needs to be reviewed for compliance before activation of event programs.

The TTB has released guidance on social media advertising here, and social media posts sponsored or conducted by brand accounts and those representing brands must comply with the federal advertising requirements in 27 CFR Parts 4, 5 and 7.  The FTC also published a study on alcohol advertising, available here.

There has been limited state guidance regarding the use of social media.  Some states, like California and Illinois, have addressed social media advertising as a potential thing of value to retailers when posts mention a specific retailer and have filed accusations against supplier licensees in these cases. Bills are proposed in both states, which, if they pass, would provide a social media exception to the tied house laws and permit this practice going forward. This state interpretation contrasts with states like Texas that have explicitly permitted retailer locators in social media.  Other states, like Washington and Oregon, permit social media as long as it does not appeal to or solicit viewers under 21 and as long as it complies with other laws (like Oregon’s Happy Hour restrictions).  Still other states, like Kentucky and North Carolina, permit social media advertising without additional guidance, and many more states provide no guidance about social media at all but fall back on the federal government’s regulations.

For still more information on social media, check the material from your relevant industry association, DISCUS, Wine Institute and Beer Institute for their social media and marketing guidelines.

2. What is the biggest social media trap to avoid?

Advertising Retailers!

  • Be cautious of advertising events involving retailers, like the now infamous California accusations against suppliers who advertised the Save Mart Grape Escape in Sacramento, a charity event that did not take place at Save Mart, but was sponsored by them.
  • There are specific state exceptions that permit you to advertise events you are attending at retail accounts – such as wine tastings and bottlesignings in California.  Every state is different though, so you want to understand what events you can and can’t advertise in every market.
  • Federal law and some state laws permit advertising two or more unaffiliated retailers (retailer locators), but the specific information you can share varies.  Some states, for example, don’t permit names, only addresses, where your product can be found.  Here’s a good example of how to do a post with multiple retailers listed without any images or extra advertising material that is not permitted in many markets:

3.       What are some best practices to follow?

  • Place ads responsibly and consider age-gating with DOB

The industry associations strongly recommend this, as does the FTC, and it’s a way of the industry self-policing and demonstrating responsible business practices.  They also strongly advise confirming age prior to engaging in a dialogue with consumers on social media.

  • Create responsible content and monitor posts by others

While there is a safe harbor for posts by others, if your brand account retweets or reposts this content, it becomes yours.  Use privacy settings actively so that you don’t have content on your page or wall that doesn’t represent your brand or promotes the irresponsible use of your product.

  • Educate your partners

Many industry members should know better, but don’t.  Don’t assume that the industry members you’re doing business with know the restrictions on their alcohol social media and marketing.  Also recognize that each company has different risk tolerances, so even the more established industry members may have made the business decision to take advantage of the lack of enforcement in a particular market or the gray areas within the regulations.

  • Create clear privacy policies and a company social media policy

It’s important to control who can represent your brand on social media and in your online marketing, so create policies to determine your social media strategy and compliance rules and use privacy policies and restrictions to protect your customers’ information and how you monitor your own posts.  Make sure employees or paid agents (especially third party providers like delivery platforms and event companies!) who are posting about your brand disclose their affiliation or sponsorship and understand your policies, branding priorities and the regulatory parameters around your product.

If you have additional questions, we are here to help!

Build It and They Will Come: Craft Products Get New Privileges in CA and TX

Big news for craft producers in California and Texas, two of the biggest consumer markets in the United States: Texas craft brewers and distillers now have expanded retail sale and on-sale consumption privileges and California craft distillers have expanded tasting privileges as a result of newly enacted legislation.  But why does this matter?  Why is it important to give craft producers more control over the experience consumers enjoy on their premises? While now such an essential part of California culture, it is almost hard to remember that the big business of California wine country tourism is a relatively new phenomenon.  It was less than forty years ago in 1976 that the Judging of Paris famously put California wine on the global map and helped shape what is now the fourth largest wine-producing region in the world.  The demand for California wine in the 1970’s fueled rapid growth and the number of wineries in the state ballooned from 227 in 1966 to more than 3,400 in 2010, according to the Wine Institute.  Strength in numbers and burgeoning state revenue created a powerful lobbying force, and California wineries pushed for legislation to give wineries broad privileges to allow consumers to experience California wine country by tasting and buying wine directly from the beautiful winery properties for both on-premises and off-premises consumption (and later, the privileges of shipping directly to consumers, but that’s another bedtime story).  Other states soon followed suit, and wine countries popped up across the country, to give the new American wine consumer access to small producers who didn’t have mass distribution in America’s retail establishments.

But under an alcohol regulatory system in which everything is prohibited unless expressly permitted, these tasting and retail privileges did not always extend to local brewers and distillers, whose sectors were dominated by the mass-produced national and international brands, most of whom did very well through the traditional three-tier system and had little interest in bringing consumers to experience their production facilities.

As craft breweries grew in popularity in the 1980’s, California granted the same privileges to local breweries, brewpubs and microbreweries to conduct on-premise tastings and sell to consumers for off-premises consumption.  See Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 23357.  We’ve since seen a massive explosion of craft beer that just keeps growing at exponential rates across the country.  The Brewers Association estimates the number of craft brewers to have grown from 8 in 1980 to 537 in 1994 to over 2300 in 2012, with more than 1500 in development around the country.

As a sign of this ever-expanding growth, earlier this year Texas expanded the privileges of brewpubs and microbreweries to permit consumers to tour and taste at the licensed premises and to permit expanded routes to market for small brewers:

  • Brewpubs can manufacture up to 10,000 barrels annually instead of 5,000 and can sell to distributors and up to 1,000 barrels to retailers, in addition to consumers who visit their premises (SB 515).
  • Brewers and manufacturers who sell less than 125,000 barrels can self-distribute up to 40,000 barrels directly to retailers (SB 516 and SB 517).
  • Brewers and manufacturers who produce less than 225,000 barrels annually can sell up to 5,000 barrels of malt beverages produced on the premises for on-sale consumption to consumers (SB 518).

See TABC Press Release, “New craft beer laws signed by Governor Perry, go into immediate effect,” available at https://www.tabc.state.tx.us/home/press_releases/2013/20130615.asp

Craft spirits are growing too, especially with Millennials, who can be seen across the country in bars ordering exclusive specialty cocktails prepared by mixologists, key influencers for growing small batch brands.

As a result of this growth in craft spirits, this year Texas also opened up its laws to include local distillers and rectifiers, who are now able to sell or give away samples of their products to consumers for on-sale consumption up to 3,000 gallons annually, and sell up to two 750ml bottles of their products every thirty days to a consumer who visits the premises, up to 3,500 gallons annually. (SB 905).

This year in California, Governor Brown signed AB 933, which will permit distilled spirits manufacturers to charge each consumer for up to six ¼ ounce tastes of the distillery’s own products on its licensed premises.  The bill will become law in January, meaning distillers will be able to begin charging for tastings, without the necessity of using a work-around protocol like charging for glassware but not the tasting.

It is worth noting that AB 933 does NOT permit distillers to charge for or provide mixed drinks as part of the tastings, specifically stating that these tastings “shall not be given in the form of a cocktail or a mixed drink.”  This is an unfortunate restriction because it deprives consumers of the ability to taste the distilled spirits in the form they are most likely to consume it—in a cocktail.  Moreover, in our current cocktail culture, many distilled spirits manufacturers have very specific drink recipes and mixer recommendations intended for their products that they will not be able to share with consumers on site as part of these tastings.

Additionally, while neither current California law nor AB 933 will permit California distilled spirits manufacturers to sell bottles of their products directly to consumers from tasting rooms—all products will be required to be sold from a retail-licensed premises through the three-tier system—we hope this privilege will not be far behind, despite strong opposition from the distribution tier.

Will craft beer and spirits follow the example set by the American wine industry?  If you build it, will they come?  We hope that the expanded experiential marketing and retail sale privileges that helped the American wine industry tell its story to consumers will now extend to the craft beer and spirits industries, giving consumers the opportunity to fall in love with more small, local and creative brands than ever before.

For more information about craft beverages, please check out the Craft Beverage Expo in May 2014 in San Jose, California.  Hinman & Carmichael’s Rebecca Stamey-White serves on the Advisory Board.

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  15. Prop 65 - Escaping a "Notice of Violation"
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