California Redefines “Beer” to Align with Federal Definition
On July 9, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 205, which redefines beer under California’s Alcohol Beverage Control Act. AB 205 allows for beer to be produced with honey, fruit, fruit juice, fruit concentrate, herbs, spices, and other food materials. Under the prior California law, “beer” was defined as “any alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of any infusion or decoction of barley, malt, hops, or any other similar product, or any combination thereof in water.” Prior to AB 205, use of fruit in the fermentation process required a wine license.
Notably, federal law already permits the use of these additional ingredients. As per 26 U.S.C. § 5052(a), federal law defines beer as “beer, ale, porter, stout, and other similar fermented beverages (including sake or similar products) of any name or description containing one-half of 1 percent or more of alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute therefor.” Federal regulations at 27 CFR 25.15 identify the materials that may be used in the production of beer: “Beer must be brewed from malt or from substitutes for malt. Only rice, grain of any kind, bran, glucose, sugar, and molasses are substitutes for malt. In addition, you may also use the following materials may be used as adjuncts in fermenting beer: honey, fruit, fruit juice, fruit concentrate, herbs, spices, and other food materials.”
Thus, the passage of AB 205 is a seemingly long-overdue update and will likely have little effect on the market as California’s legal system has likely deferred to the federal definition. Indeed, California Craft Brewers Association Executive Director Tom McCormick described AB 205 as a “clean-up bill” that aligns California with federal law. Nonetheless, Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), who introduced the bill, stated that “[t]his measure modifies the definition of beer in a way that will allow California breweries to expand their market, satisfying the consumer’s desire for more varied and unique styles of beer.”