Legalized Liquor

Better booze in California


Belly up to a trendy bar in San Francisco, and you're likely to be offered a cocktail featuring rosemary gin, lemongrass-saffron vodka, or some other fanciful infusion. And now, thanks to the recent repeal of a Prohibition-era law that forbade bartenders from engaging in such tasty tampering, those delicious drinks are finally legal. 

The law banning cocktails made with food-infused liquor, which was aimed at keeping adulterated spirits off the shelves, sat dormant on the books for decades. But last year the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control started warning bars that they could suffer fines for serving house-made bitters, tinctures, and other infusions. 

Although state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) isn't a cocktail connoisseur (he told The Sacramento Bee he prefers his vodka plain), when he heard about the warnings he decided that "for government to be interfering made no sense whatsoever." Leno's bill repealing the archaic law passed the state Senate and Assembly unanimously last year but then languished until a couple of bartenders chafing under the restrictions posted a petition at urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it. "To restrict a bartender's ability to infuse cacao nib into a bottle of bourbon for a specialty cocktail or craft a unique proprietary bitters or tincture to add value to their business and uniqueness to their guest's evening," the petition said, "is to restrict a bartender's ability to do their job as creatively and efficaciously as possible."

On September 21, Brown signed the bill into law, repealing the infusion ban. The bill even included an "urgency clause," making happy hour in California a little bit happier that very day.