SACRAMENTO — Budweiser and Coors beat Miller and Stroh in a battle of the beer barons in the state Capitol on Tuesday.
At stake was a bill to authorize California breweries to conduct free beer tastings on or off state-licensed premises for events sponsored by nonprofit organizations.
The measure died on a 2-4 vote in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee. It needed nine "yes" votes.
Introduced by Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Oak Run), the beer tasting bill was sponsored by the Miller Brewing Co. and supported by Stroh Brewery Co., both of which operate major breweries in California.
It was vigorously opposed by Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., which has two major breweries in California, and Colorado-based Adolph Coors Co., which has none.
Under the bill, out-of-state beer producers and importers of foreign beer would not have been allowed to conduct the beer tastings.
Statham said he wanted to put California beer producers in a competitively advantageous position, noting that free wine tastings have long been commonplace. However, in a letter to the committee, Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser beer, called the bill "a new marketing gimmick that is unnecessary and ill-timed."
Because of the highly competitive nature of the beer industry, the letter said, all California breweries would be forced to participate if it became law.
"We do not wish to be promoting beer through beer tastings at nonprofit organizations," it said. "It is highly likely that these nonprofit groups will be made up of young people, and if any adverse publicity is attached to an accident or an incident after a beer tasting, it would not help the industry at all."
Anheuser-Busch said it produces more than 70% of the beer made in California and sells more than 50% of the beer sold in the state.
"Our brewery does not want to be associated with a marketing technique that could lead to over-indulgence," Bob Garcia, a Coors lobbyist, told the committee.
"The worst alcohol is free alcohol," asserted Art Crony of the Committee on Moral Concerns, another opponent.
Statham replied, "I see this as an economic issue, not a drunk-driving issue. Wine tasting doesn't proliferate drunk driving. Neither would beer tasting."