With news last week that the NFL will now be allowing distilled spirits suppliers to advertise during televised football games, it is a good time for a reminder about some of the special issues that come up when advertising alcohol. Under federal law, there are several rules that regulate the advertising of alcohol by suppliers. The main one is that advertisements must include mandatory information about the responsible advertiser and about the product. If a supplier is advertising all of its brands, the only information needed is the advertiser’s name and address, as approved on its federal permit. If a single brand is being advertised, its class and type must appear, and a distilled spirits ad must also show the alcohol content of the product, and the percent and type of any neutral spirits it contains. The federal laws, and many state laws, also have general restrictions around legibility, comparative advertising, and around certain prohibited statements, including, for example, health claims or obscene or indecent statements. Advertising laws prevent the use of a supplier advertisement to provide something of value to a retail licensee, e.g., by giving information about retailers other than a basic mention of where to find the supplier’s products, including at least two, unaffiliated retailers. Suppliers and retailers cannot cooperate or share in the costs of advertising. At the state and local level, other concerns include things like the direct mailing or televising of alcohol advertisements, and advertising of pricing or discounting on products. A number of states require alcohol ads to be preapproved by the regulators there before they can be published. Many states will not allow any listing or mention of retailers in advertisements unless all known retailers of the product are mentioned. It is important to be aware of what exactly constitutes an advertisement. Don’t forget that social media posts by a brand are also subject to advertising rules. Third party posts by influencers and others are also ads, and are subject to Federal Trade Commission guidelines on making sure that readers know that the placement of the brand’s name was paid for. The same goes for sweepstakes and other competitions run by brands, where it must be clear in the post that a consumer has been incentivized to post content on their own social media pages in return for a chance to win a prize. The FTC recently sent letters to dozens of brands and influencers, warning that “material connections” between influencers and brands must be disclosed in social media posts promoting the brands. This suggests that the FTC is focused on the issue and could take enforcement action against companies that fail to comply. Each of the major supplier industry trade groups (Beer Institute, Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council) maintain voluntary compliance guidelines for advertising in the alcohol industry. These guides contain recommendations related to making sure that target audiences are over 21, that actors appear to be well over 21, and which recommend limiting certain content, for example, ads that encourage overconsumption or suggest that drinking leads to sporting or other success. The guides are extremely useful reading for all industry members, even if they are not members of the association in question. If you are looking for specific guidance on alcohol advertising, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
The partners at Strike & Techel are pleased to announce the elevation of Tom Kerr from Senior Associate to Partner in the firm! Tom spent his first few years after law school practicing commercial litigation, but once he joined Strike & Techel in 2011, he quickly realized alcohol law was much more fun. Tom’s diverse practice includes advising supplier and retailer clients on trade practice issues, distribution, promotions, advertising, marketing, and tied-house issues. Tom has particular expertise in ecommerce and he advises many third party providers and others on emerging industry practices. If you have questions in these areas, or regarding foreign travel, the Denver Broncos, or Star Wars, Tom’s probably got the answers. To learn more about Tom and Strike & Techel, visit us at www.alcohol.law.
On November 4, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed Assembly Bill 10248 (AB 10248). This is the second time in two years that Governor Cuomo has vetoed a bill seeking to amend the state’s alcohol laws to clarify the basis upon which the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) can revoke, suspend or cancel a license or permit. AB 10248 would have prevented the SLA from taking disciplinary action against licensees for violations of other states’ alcoholic beverage laws unless the alleged violation independently violated a provision of NY law, or the other state had determined that a violation had occurred after providing the accused with full due process of law; the SLA could not take action based on a mere allegation of a violation in another state. AB 10248 would have specifically permitted the SLA to take action against licensees for knowingly making alcohol sales to minors or failing to pay taxes in other states, but presumably the other state still would have had to prove liability before the SLA could act. AB 10248 stems from the SLA’s ongoing battle with Empire Wine. In 2014, the SLA alleged that Empire Wine was violating other states’ laws by direct shipping wine to consumers in a number of states that prohibit direct shipping by out-of-state retailers. In Governor Cuomo’s veto memo, he reasoned that the veto ensured that licensees would abide by New York’s alcohol laws and prevent a “regulatory gap” in which retailers could violate other states’ laws without repercussions in New York.
Our regular readers will notice that our blog has a new name: Alcohol.law Digest. We’ve been posting topical information about the legalities of the alcoholic beverage industry on our Imbibe-Blog (aka Imbiblog) webpage for six years and we felt like it was time for a change. Going forward, we’ll continue posting about the topics we think will be interesting and important to our readers, but we’ll do it under a name everyone can pronounce! Farewell Imbiblog (or is it Im-BEE-blog?) and welcome Alcohol.law Digest!
Effective January 1, 2016, the California ABC Act contains a new section that loosens the restrictions suppliers face when mentioning a retailer in a social media post. Newly added Business and Professions Code § 23355.3 is aimed at clarifying how suppliers and retailers can co-sponsor nonprofit events. It was drafted, in part, as a response to the backlash that occurred after the ABC filed accusations against several wineries for advertising sponsorship of the “Save Mart Grape Escape” charity fundraising event in 2014. In that instance, several wineries posted or tweeted their support and sponsorship of the event on social media. The ABC reasoned that the suppliers were impermissibly advertising for Save Mart, a retailer, even though the event was held under a nonprofit permit issued to a bona fide nonprofit organization. The ABC alleged that by posting or tweeting about the event, the suppliers were giving a thing of value to the retailer, a practice that has long been considered a violation of California’s tied house restrictions. California law has long permitted supplier licensees to sponsor nonprofit events if the nonprofit gets an event license, and the new law does not fundamentally change that. However, the new section clarifies that a supplier may advertise sponsorship or participation in such events even if a retailer is also a named sponsor of the event. Payments or other consideration to the retailer are still considered a thing of value, and are not allowed, but social media postings no longer fall under that broad category. There are restrictions on what the supplier is permitted to post about the retailer; posts cannot contain the retail price of alcoholic beverages and cannot promote or advertise for the retail licensee beyond mentioning sponsorship or participation in the event. The supplier can share a retailer’s advertisement for the event on social media, but the supplier is not permitted to pay or reimburse the retailer for any advertisement and cannot demand exclusivity of its products at the event. In short, the new section will allow exactly the type of supplier social media support that occurred in the Save Mart Grape Escape situation.
On October 8, 2015, California Governor Brown signed the Craft Distilleries Act of 2015 into law, which creates a new license for craft distilleries. AB 1295 is a step forward for craft spirits producers, who will no longer be subject to the same strict restrictions that apply to traditional Distilled Spirits Manufacturers (Type 4 licensees). The new Craft Distiller’s license allows the production of up to 100,000 gallons of distilled spirits each year and also includes several other key privileges not available to larger distilleries that hold Type 4 licenses: Craft Distillers will be able to sell distilled spirits to consumers, operate restaurants from their premises, and hold interests in on-sale retail licenses. AB 1295 adds several sections to the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, including Business and Professions Code Sections 23500 through 23508. Those sections include the following privileges for Craft Distillers:
Craft beer continues to be all the rage in California and across the country. With the increase in demand for local craft beers, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to get licensed as a brewery in California. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) issues three primary license types that permit beer production, including Beer Manufacturer licenses (Type 1), Small Beer Manufacturer licenses (Type 23) and the increasingly popular On-Sale General Brewpub license (Type 75). The license privileges of each type of brewery license vary, and the brewpub license is a good choice for brewers that primarily want to operate a brewpub or microbrewery restaurant rather than sell their beers for consumers to drink off the brewery’s premises. A Type 75 brewpub license authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption at a bona fide eating place, which essentially requires that the facility be a restaurant with its own kitchen that serves meals. The ability to sell distilled spirits as a brewpub is a privilege that many find attractive in deciding between brewery licenses. Type 1 and Type 23 breweries may, but are not required to, operate bona fide eating places, but they are limited to beer and wine, and cannot sell distilled spirits. Additionally, beer, wine, and distilled spirits restaurant licenses (i.e., Type 47 On-Sale General for Bona Fide Public Eating Place) are often extremely expensive as the number of licenses issued is limited per county based on population. There is no cap on the number of Type 75 licenses that can be issued, so the Type 75 license can be an attractive option for businesses that want to sell distilled spirits, although all Type 75 licensees must meet certain brewing requirements. Brewpubs must produce at least 100 barrels of beer per year and can produce no more than 5,000 barrels of beer per year. That production cap is substantially lower than the production allowances for Small Beer Manufacturers (less than 60,000 barrels per year) and Beer Manufacturers (60,000 barrels per year or more). Additionally, a Type 75 brewpub premises must have brewing equipment that has at least seven-barrel brewing capacity. The ABC has recently been looking into the brewing equipment of Type 75 licensees and enforcing against brewpubs that aren’t actually brewing beer or don’t have the requisite brewing capacity. Other key features of Type 75 brewpub licenses include the following: • Cannot make sales from the brewpub premises for off-premises consumption. This means that a brewpub cannot sell bottles, cans, growlers or other containers for consumption away from the brewpub. • Can sell beer produced by the brewpub to California licensed wholesalers. • Must buy all wine, distilled spirits, and beer not produced by the brewpub from a licensed wholesaler or winegrower. Note that brewpubs cannot buy or sell beer or other alcoholic beverages from other brewpubs or retailers. The initial fee for a brewpub license is currently $12,000, which is more expensive than most California license types. The annual fee is determined by the population where the brewpub is located, and varies between approximately $500 and $1,000 per year. Additionally, local rules where the brewpub is located may require additional permitting or other approvals before the brewpub can operate. Lastly, all breweries, including brewpubs, must obtain a brewery basic permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade bureau, the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages. There is no fee for the federal permit, but a bond is required. Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about starting a brewery!
One of our areas of focus at Strike & Techel is the regulatory framework for the advertising and promotion of alcoholic beverages. Under that lens, we’ve been curiously watching the proliferation of alcohol marketing via social networks. The trend is mushrooming, and alcoholic beverage regulations haven’t developed to account for the specifics of the new technologies. Though there is not an intrinsic problem with utilizing social networks to reach your target market, uninformed use of the channel can end up violating a host of alcoholic beverage laws. We expect to see significant regulations imposed at the state-level in the coming years based on companies that “push the envelope” in ways that make state regulators uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you should sit idly by while other companies capitalize. We advise our clients and friends to proceed with caution and use common sense. Make sure your advertisements are not aimed at kids. Don’t give away alcohol, valuable prizes or promotional discounts unless you’ve confirmed legality. Be mindful of state lines, and the fact that you may be able to market to a consumer in your home state in a way that you MAY NOT be able to market to a consumer in your neighboring state. And the big one that seems to keep coming up: a promotion offered over Twitter or Facebook or FourSquare requires no less compliance because it is offered on a social media platform. Give yourself lead time to get the proper legal clearance for any promotion. Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
The California ABC actively enforces the alcoholic beverage laws of the state. We’ll be posting a series of “ABC Violation Round-Up” items discussing some of the violations we have seen in recent enforcement actions. This week…. sale to a minor decoy. The Violation: You cannot sell or serve alcohol to anyone under 21 years of age in California. The ABC is constantly visiting retailers to make sure this law is enforced. Violations of the law can occur two ways; via a law enforcement decoy sting or via sale to a “true” minor. This post covers law enforcement decoy stings, which are run by the ABC or by a local law enforcement agency. In a decoy sting, a minor (19 years of age or younger) will visit your premise under law enforcement supervision and attempt to purchase alcohol. We will cover sales to a “true” minor in a later post. How to Avoid It: Identification must be requested if there is any question regarding the age of a person requesting access to alcohol. Licensees and their staff must be trained in proper review of identification. Any identification presented must be bona fide, and must match the person presenting it. Minor decoys are required to answer questions about their age truthfully, so if you ask a decoy “Are you 21 or over?” they are obliged to say no. Decoys are also required to be 19 years of age or younger, and are required to present their true identification or none at all. It is common for a decoy to confidently present their true ID and trip-up a server who is not careful. Servers must be trained to check the red “Age 21 in 20__” indicator on every ID presented to them. Recently, ABC stings at on-sale premises have involved two decoys working in tandem. Statute: California Business and Professions Code § 25658, ABC Rule 141 Standard Penalty: 15 day suspension for 1st offense, 25 day suspension for 2nd offense within 36 months, license revocation for 3rd offense within 36 months. Fines can typically be paid for the first two “strikes” in lieu of serving a suspension. The fine for the first strike is capped at $3,000, and raised to $20,000 for the second strike. Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
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