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California passes law reclassifying shochu

Under the new law, Californian bars and restaurants that sell beer and wine can also carry Japanese spirit shochu up to a certain ABV.

Shochu below 24% ABV can be sold alongside beer and wine thanks to a new California law

Bars and restaurants in California with a Type 41 liquor licence can now sell shochu after the California State Legislature passed AB 416 and governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law earlier this month. 

Prior to passage, Japanese shochu with an ABV of 24% or less could be sold to establishments with this licence, however, it had to be labelled ‘soju’, which is a Korean spirit. This had been the practice since the 1990s, due to a prior passage that made an exception for Korean soju and upon guidance from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. 

This labelling led to confusion and overlooked key cultural distinctions between the two spirits. The bill was sponsored by assembly members Al Muratsuchi and Miguel Santiago.

“After years of campaigning and lobbying, we are incredibly pleased that AB 416 has been passed and signed into law,” Hitoshi Utsunomiya, director of Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS), said.

“Shochu has a long and celebrated history within the United States and we are delighted to be able to continue this legacy with our brands. Additionally, we are pleased that bar and restaurant owners are now allowed to sell and serve Japanese shochu under its proper name.”

Utsunomiya credited a team effort from distillers, exporters, and importers, highlighting contributions from the Japanese Restaurant Association of America. As well, the JSS, US liaison officer, Chikako Ichihara, and its registered lobbyist John McCarthy played significant roles.

A similar law was passed in New York in July 2022, likewise grouping shōchū with beer and wine and no longer mislabeling it as soju.

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