There are a couple of different ways a brewer can get their beer out to a wider audience outside of their brewery. One of course is through distribution to retailers. Another, that has the benefit of getting a lot of people to try your product for the first time, and with built-in goodwill, is to conduct tastings. Be sure you are aware of the regulations governing tastings before you get started to avoid any potential adverse consequences to your license.
You can hold tastings on your own licensed premises either with or without charge, but not on any portion of your premises that are licensed with a retail license. You may only offer tastings of beer produced or bottled by or for your brewery.
Off-premises tastings at nonprofit events:
Your beer manufacturer’s license allows you to conduct tastings of your beer off of your licensed premises only for events sponsored by a nonprofit organization. The event must be one attended only by persons affiliated with that nonprofit (each of whom may bring up to three guests to the tasting), and you may not sell or solicit sales of your beer “in that portion of the premises where the beer tasting is being conducted.” (B&P Code § 23357.3(a); CCR 53.5.) You may however, distribute brochures describing your beers and their prices. Just make sure those brochures do not include an order form! And, you may not offer beer as a gift or a prize at the event.
Before you start pouring, make sure the nonprofit organization has procured the requisite permit for the event from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which is available for not more than $25 per day.
The nonprofit may not charge a fee or accept donations for admission to such an event, or for the beer served. Moreover, the event may not be advertised “as a beer tasting.”
(Another option to get your beer at a nonprofit event: you can donate your beer to a nonprofit corporation that has a license to sell donated beer.)
At on-sale licensed premises:
If the tasting is held on the premises of an on-sale retail licensee, then the tastings must be held in a portion of the premises completely separated from that where the sale of alcohol takes place. Attendees may not consume any other alcoholic beverages in the tasting area, and the retail licensee must surrender their license privileges for that portion of the premises for the time the tasting is taking place. There is an ABC form for that here. Once the tasting is concluded, you must take with you any leftover beer; it cannot be left with the retail licensee.
At farmers’ markets:
Brewers can now sell their beer at farmers’ markets. And, the certified farmers’ market beer sales permit also allows you to conduct instructional tastings, subject to the authorization of the market’s director or manager. Such tastings need to be held in an area separated from the rest of the market by some form of temporary or permanent barrier, and only one licensee at a time can conduct such an event.
For any tasting, you need to make sure you keep detailed records of all the beer furnished and consumed at the event. Additional information concerning the date, location and licensee sponsoring the event should also be kept and maintained for a minimum of three years.