Brewing on Campus: California Legislature Considers Allowing Underage Sampling to Aspiring Brewers and Vintners

Tasting1In the past decade, rapidly growing interest in brewing has certainly been great for the industry. But, whereas many if not most of us made our first hop additions after college or at least after attaining drinking age, these days college-age students are seeing the brewing biz as a potential professional career path. We applaud them. Of course, the prospect of learning to brew in college has its legal obstacles, among them for not-yet-21-year-olds, not legally being allowed to sample your wares—or top commercial examples you might aspire to contend with.

As university brewing programs and beer-appreciation classes have made their way onto campuses, California is among legislatures reacting, paving the way to encourage these programs and would-be brewers who are still underage. Right now, the California legislature is considering AB 1989, which affects students in winemaking and brewery science programs. The revised law would define the terms “qualified academic institution,” “qualified student,” and “taste,” allowing certain students the ability to experience tasty ABV-ed libations. Unfortunately, though, the law does not allow swallowing the brew under any circumstances, however controlled. AB 1989 would definitely be a welcome change to the law, in a state where making beer and wine is big business. If passed, though, we hope campus programs can encourage the legislature to keep pushing the law to best develop its future producers.

Indeed, yesterday, over a delightful extra pale ale from Two Brothers, good friend / BJCP Master Judge / scientist / lawyer extraordinaire Sandy Cockerham suggested what may well be the case. That is, California legislators and AB 1989 appear to be wine savvy, in that wine can be a sip-swill-spit sort of beverage. A student could understand the bulk of what makes a wine a wine by giving it a “taste” under California’s proposed law: “‘Taste’ means to draw an alcoholic beverage into the mouth, but does not include swallowing or otherwise consuming the alcoholic beverage.” We don’t purport to be wine experts, but we do know that beer, on the other hand, can’t be fully understood without sending it down the hatch, experiencing the finish and other qualities that reveal themselves at the back of the mouth, back of the tongue.

Certainly, a law that unlocks underage “drinking” to any degree would be a controversial one, but California could be just the state to lead the way. Hopefully, down the road, future brewers in legitimate brewing programs can get the opportunity to legally experience the full profile of the goods they’re learning to make. Perhaps making a per-day quantity cap tied to ABV would let professors and instructors get creative with small sampling sizes, and best help students learn. After all, these young folks may well start up shop and bring dollars and jobs to an economy that is not as peppy as everyone would like—and, dollars and jobs is always the sort of thing legislators can drink to.

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