Cooking With Alcohol

Even pigs like cooking with alcohol!

“Foodies” are buzzing around everywhere these days because food is damn delicious and now we have a term for people who enjoy eating – essentially everyone. Especially in a place like L.A., it’s almost sacrilegious not to consider yourself a foodie. Sometimes, what makes food so foodielicious is alcohol. Who doesn’t love a good beer-braised pot roast or a perfect coq au vain? Seriously, give me their names so I can have a not-so-friendly chat with them. Cooking with alcohol can be heavenly, but that means having booze in your restaurant.

This brings me to the question of the week (or month, since I was vacationing too hard and didn’t write anything all month): do you need a liquor license to cook with alcohol for the public in California?

Let’s approach this two ways: a restaurant using alcohol in its dishes and a cook without a restaurant participating in a special event. You’ll see why I make the distinction. Just follow me and my many random distracting thoughts…

Restaurants Cooking With Alcohol

Bringing the heat, fueled by lots of booze…

Not being a restaurateur myself, I imagine you would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t sell alcohol, but California makes it incredibly difficult to obtain a new general license (that’s all the liquor you want – beer, wine, and the hard stuff). Unless you purchase a business with an existing general license, you’re probably going to be limited to a beer and wine license. For many restaurants, that’s all you really need. A little vino, candlelight, and a steak and no one will even notice the absence of a cocktail menu. Plus, it’s the perfect setting for those attractive vampires everyone’s into.

While the restaurant can’t serve up cocktails, they may want to use whiskey in their mashed sweet potatoes (yes, I’ve done this and it’s amazing). What then? Aha, the California Business & Professions Code to the rescue! Section 25607(b) speaks to this very issue. If cooking with alcohol is your thing, then, and I quote:

“A bona fide public eating place for which an on-sale beer and wine license has been issued may have upon the premises brandy, rum, or liqueurs for use solely for cooking purposes.”

Shall we unpack? A “bona fide public eating place” is pretty much a legit restaurant with a full kitchen. In other words, it’s not just a bar that sells peanuts and pretzels. An “on-sale beer and wine license” is a license that allows for the consumption of beer/wine on the premises of the restaurant. I.e., not a liquor store.

These types of restaurants are allowed to have hard liquors on their premises for the sole purpose of using it in their magnificent culinary creations. Alright, problem solved. Let’s end the article here. Crap, I forgot I’m a lawyer and there are other scenarios.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Restaurant

I’ve been through the desert with a chef with no restaurant…

While most restaurants have at least a beer and wine license, it may be difficult or impossible for some restaurants to secure a liquor license of any kind. What’s more, many talented chefs don’t even have a restaurant, let alone a license to sell booze. Many of these cooks display their skills at special events, festivals, and pop-up restaurants.

How does B&P 25607(b) help if the restaurant has no licenses to speak of? The short answer is that it doesn’t. Section 25607(b) only refers to restaurants with an existing on-sale beer and wine license. However, generally, if the alcohol is incorporated into the food and cannot get the consumer drunk (i.e., the alcohol is entirely burned off), then it shouldn’t be a problem because you’re not serving an alcoholic beverage. No funny business!

A reasonable person may wonder, “Why wouldn’t the B&P Code just say that cooking with alcohol is acceptable for all restaurants?” There’s no place for reason here. Go on with your witchy ways! Honestly, I don’t know why the section doesn’t simply tell us that any restaurant may have alcohol on the premises only for the purpose of cooking. Anyone want to venture a guess? Bueller?

Cook Cook Cachoo

Red Wine Beatle Stew?

So there you have it. Cooks everywhere can rejoice! Go out and get your favorite cooking liquor and make me a dish completely void of any actual alcohol. I’m waiting…


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