Run-ins with the law


Teetering in front of the great seal of California, I confirm that I am indeed at the correct district office. CALIFORNIA ALCOHOL BEVERAGE CONTROL BOARD, the sign reads. Deep breath. Okay, here we go. 

I push open the door and stride in, straightening my suit cuff—y'know, all business. Today is my long-awaited appointment day to file for our wholesale TYPE 17/20 license—a fantastically laborious permit application to become a legal alcohol business in California. Pages and pages of documentation that comprise our application, carefully reviewed by a team of lawyers, are enveloped and waiting for stamps of approval in my slightly trembling (am I noticeably trembling?) hand. The office looks like something in between a DMV and a hospital waiting room—neither of which inspire any feelings of comfort in me. 

Don't be nervous! Nothing can go wrong, I think to myself. And why am I nervous? Well, you have to understand that alcohol laws in the United States are a funny bunch of rules (I use the word "funny" in the most euphemistic sense). The laws range from sensible (proper labeling of alcohol content) to arbitrarily insane (don't even try to ship a bottle of alcohol anywhere, trust me). I met a manufacturer the other day who told me, "It's easier to sell someone a gun in the US than a bottle of beer." When I laughed at that, he frowned and said "it's not funny." 

For months now, we've been navigating all the laws and trying to find where an unusual product like Motxo fits within the various definitions of US and state alcohol laws. It's been an exceptionally challenging process. And now I'm finally in the waiting room of the state alcohol approval board, the very bastion of arbitrary regulation who could sentence our company to life or death with a swift smack of a rubberized stamp. So yeah, I was nervous. 

"Ben Breuner? You're up." 

I approach the table gingerly. My biggest fear is the agent will take one look at me and say "Hah! You're not old enough to run an alcohol business! Why don't you go back to sipping Welch's grape juice like a child!"

To counteract this fear, I'm dressed to the nines. Full sport jacket and button down—even a touch of cologne. Everybody else waiting in line are wearing shorts and t-shirts.

The woman on the other side of the table is very nice. We go over the documents. To my surprise, everything checks out. 

"Can I have your ID to go make a copy for our records?"

I hand her my driver's license. She takes it.

There's a pause, a noticeable rigidity in her stance that was not present before. She rotates the little plastic card in a slow 90-degree arc from horizontal to vertical. She casts a glance at me. 

"I have to go talk to my supervisor." 

Dread fills me. I immediately realize the problem.  For those that don't know, in most states, people under 21 are issued driver's licenses oriented vertically as a way to help retailers quickly identify who is and is not of legal drinking age. Those IDs don't expire for many years though and as a 22-year-old, I simply hadn't gone to the trouble to renew my license and replace my vertical ID with a standard horizontal one. My birthdate is on there, so as long as someone can do the math, it's no problem.

Except, of course, for right now. 

Here I stand in the very office which contains the creative prowess to invent a system like the vertical ID standard in the first place. Surrounding me are posters, brochures, and leaflets with colorful cartoon law officers and giant red circles that say UNDER 21 with a big fat line through them—all detailing the board's newest efforts to combat underage drinking. And now I'm here asking for a permit to run an alcohol business using a vertical ID meant for minors. 

The representative walks back. 

"Okay, all good! Here's a copy of your ID." 

I'm shocked. I asked why she had to speak with her supervisor. 

"Uh, we don't really get people in here with this kind of ID too often," she laughs.

I'll bet they don't.

Just another snapshot of the many funny moments that come when two college students try and start an alcohol brand. Stay tuned for more!