Alcoholic beverage control agencies across the U.S. prohibit inducements. That is, a brewery can’t “induce” a patron to buy a beer through means of solicitation, payment, free goods, or other things of value. For example, California Business & Professions Code section 24200.5(b) requires mandatory license revocation if a brewer allows “any persons to solicit or encourage others, directly or indirectly to buy drinks in the licensed premises under any commission, percentage, salary, or other profit-sharing plan, scheme, or conspiracy.” (Emphases added). There are other anti-inducement laws and regulations out there. Simple enough, right?
Not really. Independent craft beer is a community-minded lot. Brewers, patrons, hangers-on like me—we all tend to be down with various social causes. And as a whole, we are a very caring community. Most independent breweries donate beer to causes including such things as children’s causes, cancer research, and the list goes way on. Brewers: don’t do it until you are well-versed on the laws surrounding donations. Grass roots activities are one of the things that make this community so incredible.
But rules are rules—especially in beer. So one thing that has been giving me legal heartburn lately is whether “beer for causes” constitute an “inducement.” That is, people who are committed to certain causes might be likely, indeed way more likely, to purchase beer from a brewery that made a “beer for a cause,” especially if that cause gets a cut of the purchase price or profits (see how Section 24200.5(b) sneaks in?). I know that I have seen a brewery supporting a certain cause and thought to myself that I should hunt that beer down and buy it because I love that cause.
To the point. Is this an inducement? Did the brewery making a beer to support Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer research, or any other given cause induce me to buy that beer? I suppose as a technical matter, that “cause” might sway me to purchase one beer over another. Does that violate the ABC Act or the associated regulations?
I’m not aware of any ABC Board pronouncement on this issue (let me know if there is one). It seems to me that a strict reading of the anti-inducement laws suggests that “beers for a cause” in fact violate those laws and could lead to a fine, suspension, or revocation because they arguably “encourage” purchases and could be described as a “scheme” to sell that beer. I would hope, however, that the ABC would either (1) look the other way for these types of sales, or (2) issue a regulatory advisory or regulation saying that this conduct is just fine. Keep in mind that the ABC and the attendant regulations are what we call a “permissive statute.” That means that if the statute doesn’t say a licensee can do something, that licensee can’t do it. So without express permission, and in the face of statutes like Section 24200.5, are beers for a cause a violation? I don’t know. I hope not.
Cheers. Let me know what you think.