Alcohol

If It Isn't Authorized, It's Prohibited

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Alcohol regulators in California don't seem to understand the process of infusing spirits with flavors like orange or vanilla. So naturally, they're prohibiting that which they don't understand, invoking a ban on on-site distilling that really has nothing to do with the infusion process.

The state of California has suddenly started issuing warnings to bars and restaurants prohibiting them from "infusing" liquors such as vodka with herbs or fruits—a popular and widespread practice. But the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Department has no clear explanation for why it has targeted several establishments in the San Francisco Bay Area in recent weeks. And it can't, or won't, definitively answer the fundamental question of why it's illegal in the first place to make infusions without having a special license.

In fact, the law under which the warnings were issued doesn't have anything to say about infusion, but rather seems aimed at preventing bars from making their own hooch, creating dangerous brews, or adulterating liquor to increase its alcohol content.

"It's totally insane," said Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute, which happens to be headquartered in the Bay Area. "I'd never heard of such a thing. It baffles me beyond my wildest dreams."

Chris Albrecht, an ABCD deputy division chief, said that despite the enforcement actions, the department "does not consider this a priority." The warnings, he said, were issued to a few establishments where enforcement agents showed up in response to unrelated complaints. Agents saw that infused drinks were being offered for sale, issued the warnings, and, in at least one case, asked an employee to pour the illicit concoctions down the drain, Albrecht said.

State alcohol regulators have to be among the most petty and arbitrary bureaucrats in government. Witness my state of Virginia, where they recently resurrected a Prohibition-era law to arrest a bartender for serving sangria (the state legislature had to pass a bill legalizing sangria and martinis), and went after my favorite bar a couple years ago for serving delicious frozen beer on a stick.

Somewhat related: How to make bacon-infused bourbon.

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  1. Chris Albrecht, an ABCD deputy division chief, said that despite the enforcement actions, the department “does not consider this a priority.”

    hmmm…where have we heard that one before?

  2. Wow, tell me thats not the craziest ting you ever heard of??

    Jess
    http://www.anonymous-web.es.tc

  3. Steinbeck would have been down with frozen beer on a stick.

    Anyone remember the beer milkshake from “Cannery Row”? They’re delicious.

  4. Agents saw that infused drinks were being offered for sale, issued the warnings, and, in at least one case, asked an employee to pour the illicit concoctions down the drain

    Why didn’t they cite the owners for witchcraft?

  5. And you were only worried that drinking pineapple-cherry martinis makes you look like a pussy.

  6. The state of California has suddenly started issuing warnings to bars and restaurants prohibiting them from “infusing” liquors such as vodka with herbs or fruits

    Is it OK if we infuse herbal tea or orange juice with vodka?

  7. So what is not explicitly authorized is not allowed? That’s one of those core tenets to a free society, right?

  8. Freedom is Slavery.

  9. Balko’s reporting often makes me wonder if there exist a Laffer’s curve for political violence. It’s easy enough to assume it exist in some capacity in the real world for economics but seems impossible to predict beyond the frame work of the Government taking zero percent of revenue if they tax you at zero percent, and zero percent of revenue after the first year if they take one hundred percent of your income that first year.

    Say the optimum for political violence is one hundred percent possibility of a bureaucrat getting a beat down if he challenges x amount of your freedom, and zero chance of him getting a beat down if he doesn’t challenge any of your freedom. The vexing thing is we know from human history that that one hundred percent chance must be extremely high as governments have gotten away with an incredible degree of abusive behavior against their citizens.

    The variable factors here rely on an index of comfort, a standard of living of the abused and the power of the oppressor to enforce his violence against the oppressed. Tolerance of governmental antisocial behavior can be pretty high when the abused risks losing a decent livelihood if he were to retaliate.

    The less the abused has to lose the more likely the bureaucrat will get his deserved beat down. At some point, it would be in the bureaucrat’s interest to weigh the negative impact that his brotherhood has on the economic condition if for no other purpose than to maintain his status, but I imagine he will be caught completely by surprised when the breaking point is reached. So far, every feedback he has received has vindicated his actions. That is true of many turkeys too up to about a week before Thanksgiving.

  10. I recommend following the blog entries of DNA Lounge, a nightclub in San Francisco. The owner has been documenting his efforts to keep the place above water for the past 9 or so years now, and the amount of regulatory harassment that bar and club owners have to put up with is mind-boggling. If it’s not arbitrary building codes, endless inspections, and interference from overbearing neighbors, it’s the ABC and the police department.

    What a fucking miracle that any businesses exist in that city at all.

  11. According to Albrecht, the answer is “based on public health and safety.” But when I asked him what was unhealthy or unsafe about infusion, he had no answer other than to say: “The department does not employ medical professionals.”

    Read: “Shut up, peon! I don’t have to justify my reasoning to you! If I say it’s because of health and safety, then you’ll take it and you’ll like it!”

  12. Chris Albrecht, an ABCD deputy division chief, said that despite the enforcement actions, the department “does not consider this a priority.”

    Oh, ok. So it’s a really important law that’s there for “public health and safety” reasons. But they’ll only enforce the law against you if you piss them off somehow. Got it.

    Sometimes I wish we could just go back to the good ol’ days, when bar owners would slip a politician a little something on the side to give your place a pass. At least you had some influence over your fate.

  13. How much do you want to bet this started with some cop looking for a payoff?

  14. Bacon-flavored bourbon? NOW I know how Balko manages to keep posting such depressing stuff while still staying quasi-sane …

  15. this is crazy we have right to choose and take what we like to taste when we go to the bar it would be illogical to see in each bar if they have or not the license to make infusions.

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