Protest the California Bill to Outlaw Coffee Stout, AB 1598

A few days ago I posted an article about California Assembly Bill 1598, which is currently in committee and will, as currently written, potentially outlaw any malt beverage that contains caffeine, including the beloved craft beer styles that include coffee such as espresso stouts, coffee porters, and more.

[Updated March 12 at 10:21am] In my previous post, I mentioned that, yes, Beall’s office is working with the Craft Brewers Association to clarify this bill. This does not mean, however, that we should not sit by idly and wait. We need to express our discontent to the California Assembly regarding this bill and the slippery slope that it creates. Don’t let coffee stout be outlawed by a technicality!

Since writing that article, I have seen much support against this bill on twitter and from readers of this blog. I also wrote letters to both the committee chair, Joe Coto, of Governmental Organization (G.O.) as well as Assemblyperson Jim Beall, who introduced the bill. I have not received a response, personally, until this morning.

This weekend I would like you to help out and protest this horribly written piece of legislation in the following manner:

  • Find a craft beer made with coffee and enjoy it. Use Twitter to announce what coffee beer you are drinking and use the hashtags #noab1598 #iheartcoffeestout
  • If you do not use Twitter, then announce what beer you had in the comments of this post.
  • Write an email to Jim Beall, Joe Coto, or your California Assembly representative expressing your displeasure will AB 1598 and that you think it needs to be either completely re-written or, better, stopped altogether.
  • Put a this badge on your blog or website. A link back to this blog post is not mandatory but would be useful.


With enough people involved, I’m sure we can all make a difference together and squash this frivolous law that would prevent us from drinking some great craft beer made with coffee.

Update: March 12, 2010 at 10:25am

I received a comment from Assemblymember Beall’s office below. They misunderstood that they had not replied to my message. So that everybody know what I sent to Beall and Coto, I will post my message here:

Assembly Member Beall,

I am writing to ask you to withdraw AB 1598.

I understand that the intent of AB 1598 is to outlaw caffeinated malt beverages that might be popular by young and underage drinkers. The desire to protect our youth is laudable but this bill serves to remove more liberties. There are several problems with the law in its current form:

1. It will also outlaw a niche in the craft beer market, which is coffee stouts, coffee porters, and yerba mate beer. There is wonderful roasty and mocha quality that coffee or espresso adds to these styles of beer that can not be reproduced otherwise. Furthermore, the coffee is naturally brewed and added to the beer during the standard brewing process.

2. There is already an FDA investigation with regard to caffeine and stimulant additions to malt beverages. My understand is that there are also already regulations and guidelines governing caffeine in beer. Why does California need another bill on the books when there are already Federal guidelines?

3. There are a few sections of the bill that state facts and make assertions with out the proof of the research behind those assertions. With out the research they are merely opinions. There is even a misguided assertion that social networks are comprised only of young people but the fact is that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 35+ and 18-25 is shrinking percentage-wise.

4. Finally, if the issue is marketing these soda-pop alcohol drinks to minors and young people, then write a new bill to outlaw the practice of marketing alcohol to underage drinkers. If you make it difficult or impossible for big alcohol to reach the underage demographic, then there will be no need for those products.

Finally, I also understand that you or the committee are already in talks with craft brewers about this bill. I’m writing to let you know that it is not only the craft brewers that are concerned with this bill but also consumers such as myself and the readers of my blog.

Thank you,
David Jensen
San Mateo, CA

Update: March 12, 2010 at 2:30pm

In addition to the comment below, I also received an email from Cris from Assemblymember Beall’s office. Cris did mention that the intent of the bill is to prevent manufacture of an unsafe product. Fair enough but I still have not seen the research (waiting on a reply for that) that explains what the unsafe levels are. Cris also provided a link to the FDA regulations on the matter:

FDA To Look Into Safety of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

From reading that it seems to me that the manufacturers of the beverages have to prove that it is safe but what is considered safe has not been defined. In its current form AB 1598 does assist in creating the definition of what is safe. It takes broad strokes that could be applied to your favorite coffee stout. Intention or not, it’s a bill that could become law, if how it is written does not reflect this supposed intention, then we have a problem.

Finally, here is my response to the email that I received from Jim Beall’s office.

Cris,

Can you forward references to the studies that caffeinated alcoholic drinks are unsafe? I’m curious about the unsafe levels and the circumstances studied. I’m also not sure what the problem is with this FDA regulation, the manufacturer has the burden of proof that the product is safe. I know one brewery that uses licorice in their beer and had to get FDA approval. The resulting product has safer levels of licorice than licorice candy. (Note: licorice can increase blood pressure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquorice). If the problem with the FDA regulation is the ambiguity of what is considered safe, then AB 1598 also does not address that. If any caffeine plus 0.5% alcohol is what is considered unsafe, then that is much much to board and I’m very skeptical of those numbers.

I also agree that the government needs to intercede on behalf of the public to protect the public from dangerous products. We should not have lead in toys. But it has not been proven to me, yet, what amounts are considered dangerous. Over short (or prolonged) periods of time alcohol in large quantities is dangerous and caffeine in large quantities is dangerous. But we don’t ban alcohol and we don’t ban caffeine, we regulate the amount that is considered safe and even then, it can still be abused so we encourage moderation and provide warning labels.

I’ve tried rum and coke, red bull vodka, jack and coke, espresso stout, coffee porter, and so on. At what point are these beverages unsafe? If we use scientific research to set limits on what is considered safe amounts of alcohol and caffeine that can be combined it and sold as a single unit, then I might be willing to accept that.

We don’t have to wait for the FDA to “catch-up” but we should not be so quick to jump the gun without the proper research (again, I’d like to see the research). Furthermore, the bill as it stands still it too broad and still make unsubstantiated or absurd statements. The whole thing about Facebook and MySapce still bothers me.

If the intent of the law is to regulate safe levels of alcohol plus caffeine, then keep it simple and word it as such.

I suggest writing the law as if it were an FDA regulation. Keep to the facts and keep the crap out.

You have a good weekend too.

Cheers!
David Jensen
San Mateo, CA

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About David Jensen

David is a craft beer and photography enthusiast.
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6 Responses to Protest the California Bill to Outlaw Coffee Stout, AB 1598

  1. Cris Forsyth says:

    Hi Mr. Jensen.

    Since you have already posted a response from the Assembly Member regarding this issue it is unclear why you claim you have not heard from him.

    You know it is not the Assembly Member’s intention to make craft brewers who use coffee as a flavoring subject to the provisions of his legislaltion.

    You also know the Assembly Member is currently working with representatives from the California Small Brewers Associaiton on language to make it clearer that craft brews using coffee as flavorings are not subject to the provisions of this legislation.

    Please correct this inaccuracy in your blog.

    Cris Forsyth
    Chief of Staff
    Assembly Member Jim Beall

  2. David Jensen says:

    Cris,

    If you read the blog post carefully, the response was to a different person. I personally, have sent an email to both Assemblymember Beall as well as Assemblymember Coto and have not received response from either. I will update this post to make this more explicit.

    The points that I made in my messages to Beall and Coto were different than what the other reader sent to your office. The other read simply asked you, “Does this bill target beers such as a Coffee Stouts? Or is the intent alcholic energy drinks. Please clarify.” I, however, expressed 3 points as to why this bill should be withdrawn completely.

    I don’t care that the bill does not intend to target coffee stouts, currently as written it is at best ambiguous. Furthermore, if there are FDA and and federal regulations that already regulate caffeine in alcohol products, why is there a need for AB 1598? There is none. It is a slippery slope down which we should not slide.

    David Jensen
    Beer47
    http://beer47.com

  3. Timbo says:

    David,

    Thanks for following up. Do we have to visit the State Capitol to get some response from these folks that makes sense or at least clarifies their positions on this bill?

    I’m sharing this blog post to Facebook.

  4. Savory Tv says:

    California laws are ridiculously extreme at times. If they outlaw coffee stout, they should also outlaw all caffeinated cocktails being sold at bars, ie vodka + redbull etc. Unbelievable.

  5. Steve Y. says:

    As a beer drinker, I can appreciate the concern of those who doubt the ability of the government to apply an over-broad law regarding these drinks. That said, as a parent of an 18 yr. old new driver, I am appalled that there are products out there that are the equivalent of 5 beers, 1 Red Bull, and a Starbucks coffee IN ONE DRINK. C’mon people, a little common sense here? There is absolutely no value in such a drink, especially one targeted at young people. How many of us are not impaired at all after FIVE beers? (Only the liars among us). And is it reasonable to expect that anyone would pay for such a drink and drink only a PORTION of it, then throw the rest away? There is a reasonable limit somewhere, but drinks such as Four Loko are clearly WAY over whatever that line is.

  6. David Jensen says:

    Even though those drinks do no good, it is a very slippery slope. The main problem here is that there is no need for a California law when the FDA is already regulating these drinks.

    I think the bests option is to limit the marketing of these drink and put in guidelines for the labeling. The TTB has control of what labels are allowed and which are not. That can be very powerful for limiting the market appeal of these drinks to underage or legal-aged young drinkers.

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