California OKs free beer

Free beer became the law of the land on New Year's Day. If that land is California.

The current prohibition on passing out free beer samples to patrons at restaurants and bars will be replaced by a new state law that will allow manufacturers and distributors to hand out their wares.

The move, known as Senate Bill 1548, was supported by major beer brewers who are laboring in an industry that has been steadily losing market share to spirits and wines, both of which may be offered as free samples to consumers in California.

The bill passed both houses with no opposition before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed it into law.

The change, however, isn't totally supported by brewers. Smaller operations that say they can't afford to pay for tastings predict a competitive advantage for such giants as Anheuser-Busch which strongly supported the bill.

A-B responds that it will use the tastings only for new beers, such as its latest winter sampling.

"It's an opportunity for us to get consumers to sample some of our new products," said Andrew Baldonado, western region vice president of government affairs for Anheuser-Busch said in a statement. "The winter's bourbon cask ale is a seasonal beer that we're doing. The best way to introduce those new products to consumers is to be able to have them sample them."

The new law specifies that a beer tasting cannot exceed eight ounces per person per day and that the beer must be served in a glass, rather than a bottle or can. Tastings also will be limited to a maximum of one hour, and must be done as part of "courses of instruction." A manufacturer, importer or wholesaler cannot offer more than six tastings per year at any given establishment. Advertising is limited to signs inside a bar or restaurant.

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