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California Expands Legal Definition of Beer 

by Diane M. Medina

Published: July, 2019

Submission: August, 2019


California Assembly Bill No. 205 was approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 9, 2019. Assembly Member Tom Daly, who represents California’s 69th district of Orange County cities Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Garden Grove, introduced AB-205 to expand the definition of “beer” under Business & Professions Code §23006, which is part of the Alcohol Beverage Control Act. The new law is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

California law has defined beer 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 . . . .”[1] Conversely, adult beverages such as cider, mead, and sake are classified as “wine” because they are produced by fermenting “the juice of sound ripe grapes or other agricultural products containing natural or added sugar.”[2] There are separate liquor licenses necessary to manufacture the two products, and it is impossible to hold both a license to manufacture wine and a license to manufacture beer in the same space using the same equipment.

Under the new definition of beer, brewers would be able to legally brew new products using honey, fruit, fruit juice, herbs, spices, and other food materials “as adjuncts in [the] fermentation”[3] process. The use of the word “adjuncts” implies the barley, hops, malt, and other grains normally used to make beer will still constitute the majority of the ingredients, while the honey or fruits utilized by brewers are merely guest stars in the recipe and will only amount to a small portion of the product.

This is good news for craft breweries in the state who are continuously innovating their beer recipes to include new ingredients and satisfy those taste buds partial to a sweeter flavor as opposed to the bitterness found in most brews.

While some breweries already incorporate various agricultural products in their beer recipes, the new law formally permits use of such products during fermentation. As with most legislative histories, this is an instance of the law catching up to modern innovations; the modern innovation in this case is beer recipe development.

It is important to understand this definition does not provide brewers with the legal ability to make wine or cider or mead. A license to manufacture wine is still necessary to produce those types of beverages. Nor does it give wine makers the privilege of brewing beer. It merely allows brewers to use different ingredients during fermentation without fear of violating their liquor license conditions.


[1] Id.

[2] CA Business & Professions Code §23007

[3] 2019 Bill Text CA A.B. 205


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