Under New California Law, Students Under 21 Can Taste Alcohol in University Classrooms

Students have to be enrolled in an accredited winemaking or beer-brewing course.

View Comments ()




    With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Jerry Brown made it legal for some California college students under the age of 21 to taste alcohol in class.

    While that sounds like many students’ dream come true, the law, AB 1989, applies only under very specific circumstances.

    First, the students have to be enrolled in an accredited winemaking or beer-brewing course. Second, the taste can only be a taste, so students can’t actually swallow the drink.

    The latter provision earned the bill the moniker the "sip-and-spit" bill as it moved through the legislature.

    With the governor’s signature, California joins 12 other states, including New York and Oregon, to legalize underage alcohol tasting for educational purposes.

    The University of California, Davis, which is renowned for its viniculture and brewery program, was a major supporter of the legislation.

    Andrew Waterhouse, a professor in department of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, said the bill allows his students to taste wine while its getting made, a critical skill for those learning how to craft fine wines.

    "It’s an experience they can’t really get any other way," said Waterhouse, who testified in support of the bill. "And it’s much better if they do it in an educational setting where they can ask a lot of questions."

    Tara Pattison, 19, who studies brewing science at UC Davis, said she is happy that the law is finally on the books. 

    "You are learning about the process in theory, but when it comes to actually doing it, it’s not as simple as the books make it look," Pattison said. "If you cannot test the final products you will never know what mistakes you have made or, in a perfect world, didn’t make."