Prohibition

Bombay Sapphire Maker Sued Over Stupid Florida Gin-Ingredient Ban

Bad laws can cause problems long after they've been passed and forgotten.

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A 150-year-old Florida law that prohibits the addition of a common spice to liquor is at the center of a lawsuit against the maker of a popular gin. 

The class-action lawsuit against Bacardi, which owns Bombay Sapphire, claims the liquor giant adds "grains of paradise"—a spice banned under an archaic Florida law—to its bestselling gin. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami this past summer and the subject of a lengthy piece in the Miami Herald this week, also names Winn-Dixie, a Florida-based grocery chain that sells Bombay Sapphire, as a defendant.

The Florida law, § 562.455, declares that "[w]hoever adulterates, for the purpose of sale, any liquor, used or intended for drink, with… grains of paradise… or any other substance which is poisonous or injurious to health, and whoever knowingly sells any liquor so adulterated, shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree."

That's comparable in severity to armed trespassing. Those found guilty of a third-degree felony in Florida face up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. 

To be fair, the law isn't entirely ridiculous. Some of the substances the law prohibits from being added to liquor are harmful, including laurel water.

But grains of paradise aren't harmful. They're a spice that The Kitchn, a food website, has touted as "The Best Spice You've Never Heard Of." The West African spice is a type of ginger that's related closely to cardamom. The Kitchn notes that it resembles peppercorns and has an aroma and flavor that is "a heady combination of black pepper, cardamom, lemon zest, and something warm and woodsy."

That sounds quite pleasant to me. Less so to attorney Roniel Rodriguez, who represents plaintiff Uri Marrache. "People are consuming [Bombay Sapphire] unaware of its potential side effects," Rodriguez told the Herald

But Marrache's suit doesn't allege Bacardi or Winn-Dixie caused him (or any other potential class member) any specific physical harms or side effects. Indeed, Rodriguez, the Herald reports, "acknowledges there are no studies that he's found that show a negative health effect of grains of paradise." The alleged damage described in the lawsuit resides instead entirely in the "individual purchase price" paid by consumers—"generally less than $40."

The Florida law, the Herald reports, was adopted after the Civil War "during an era when some people believed the spice [grains of paradise] was a poisonous drug that could morph drinkers into suicidal madmen." Some such people were wrong. Others were clearly liars.

"In 1905, Kentucky's Lexington Herald ran a story entitled: 'Adulterated Drinks Cause Crime Wave,' penned by a 'chemist who purported to have experienced effects first hand," this week's Herald report details. "Grains of paradise added to whiskey or rum, he said, causes a man to get 'so happy' that he gives away his money, then is wracked by 'violent reaction and despair.'" The unnamed chemist, probably wracked by guilt at having given away his money after a particularly herbaceous whiskey or rum bender, also blamed grains of paradise for "a trail of suicides."

Baseless, hysterical hyperbole of this sort certainly sounds familiar. As I detailed in a 2012 law-review article, France once banned eating potatoes, citing "the spud's purported ability to cause 'not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scrofula, early death, sterility, and rampant sexuality.'" (Not necessarily in that order.)

The present lawsuit claims grains of paradise is known for its "warming" effect and is "used in other parts of the world for medicinal purposes," including as an abortifacient. "Not surprisingly," the lawsuit then declares, "adulterating alcohol with grains of paradise is illegal in Florida."

Please. Gin is itself both warming and used in other parts of the world for medicinal purposes. (Not surprisingly, gin is legal in Florida.)

That's one reason this Florida law—at least as it pertains to grains of paradise—is particularly absurd. Another reason: An 1873 legal-medical text, The Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence by Alfred Swaine Taylor, debunked any link between grains of paradise and abortion or any other purported harm. "Grains of Paradise[] is popularly considered to be highly noxious; but there are no facts to justify this view," reads the text, published around the same time Florida adopted its ban. "This kind of pepper is properly regarded as an aromatic condiment."

What's next for the present gin lawsuit? Even if the District Court doesn't dismiss the plaintiff's case, serious questions exist about whether or not Bacardi and Winn-Dixie are even in violation of the Florida law. For one thing, as the legal news site JD Supra notes, the federal government permits the addition of grains of paradise to food (including alcohol beverages). And then there's the question of whether alcohol may be adulterated in the fashion the suit alleges.

"These botanicals, which apparently include grains of paradise, are, however, vapor infused into the gin during the distillation process; they never come into physical contact with the liquid spirit," reports LexBlog, another legal news site. "This raises the question of what constitutes 'adulteration'" under the law.

For his part, Rodriguez says he's willing to drop the lawsuit, presumably with his client's blessing. (Rodriguez did not respond to my emailed request for comment.) "If Bombay would remove the grains of paradise from the gin right now, I would drop the lawsuit," Rodriguez told the Herald.

Better still, Florida lawmakers should remove any reference to grains of paradise from the law. Presumably, that would both neuter the lawsuit and ensure Bombay Sapphire continues to be available to Florida consumers looking for a little taste of paradise.

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  1. The law is the law. Winn-Dixie should be asset forfeited to the Florida government, and opened to the poor and homeless to provide free food.
    Then maybe the law could be reviewed.
    If people can just ignore laws because of facts, people might start keeping and bearing arms just because it is a right guaranteed by the constitution.

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    2. A government powerful enough to outlaw the poisoning of food is powerful enough to declare harmless ingredients poisonous. The Libertarian solution is full disclosure on food labels and tort cases after consuming harmful products.

      1. And is powerful enough to poison liquor to kill people to save them from drinking.

  2. For his part, Rodriguez says he’s willing to drop the lawsuit, presumably with his client’s blessing. (Rodriguez did not respond to my emailed request for comment.) “If Bombay would remove the grains of paradise from the gin right now, I would drop the lawsuit,” Rodriguez told the Herald.

    Bull. Rodriguez would be willing to drop the suit if they remove the grains of paradise and pay him a shitload of money. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his “clients” and the “harms” they’ve suffered, he’s just found a loophole in the law that allows him to extort money from a hapless victim. He’s one of the 99% of lawyers that give the rest of them a bad name.

  3. I had never heard of the drink Bombay Sapphire, so when I saw the headline on this piece, I couldn’t imagine what a maker of gemstones (whatever that means) from Mumbai had to do with a Florida law about gin ingredients.

    1. Artificial sapphire is a big thing. The odds a decent that your smartphone screen is made of the substance. So I made the same (false) connection you did, and wondered the same thing.

      I mean, not that it’s impossible for a law to be so badly written that it affects artificial gemstones when it was aimed at Gin. I’d like to see the REASONING, but I could believe it happened.

    2. The company logo implies that Queen Vicky liked to get sloshed…

      1. We know she smoked cigarettes, and she had a raft of kids, so it isn’t much of a stretch to think she was two fisted drinker, too.

        1. All of Queen Vicki’s bios note that she was a serious lover of alcoholic beverages.

        2. She loved her Prince Albert particularly in the can.

          1. With a strap on?

  4. Bacardi sells small bottle of flavoring with the print “for novelty use only”.

    1. I looked up the Plaintiff. He’s the CEO of a development company called Camar Development. So, now we must ask why a land developer is suing a liquor company and the store that sells its product.

      1. It’s not Uri Marrache that’s suing, it’s the lawyers. Uri is just their front man, their sock puppet. That’s generally how class action suits work, the “victims” get coupons for the “harm” they’ve suffered, the lawyers get millions in cold, hard cash. The problem is that the lawyers and the plaintiffs they pretend to represent often have conflicting interests.

  5. Anything to make gin taste less like a Christmas tree.

    1. If you think gin tastes like Christmas trees, your palate isn’t refined enough to appreciate the subtle nuances of turpentine, acetone and hamster litter a fine gin delivers.

    2. I like Juniper and if your just looking for alcohol without taste just stick to Vodka. I take your share of the Gin.

  6. Okay, so who is Uri Marrache and why is he filing a suit against Bacardi? Did he drink too much of the gin and get sick?

  7. Polish vodka “Zubrowka” is banned in the US because it uses buffalo grass that contains coumarin. The manufacturer had to create an imitation flavor and sell their product under the name “Zu”. Sassafras has been banned since 1962. Real Root Beer
    hasn’t been available since.

  8. I’ve consumed enough Bombay Sapphire in my time to sink a reasonably sized frigate. I can assure all concerned that the only side effects wore off after a couple hours.

    1. It does make a reasonably good martini…….

  9. “France once banned eating potatoes, citing “the spud’s purported ability to cause ‘not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scrofula, early death, sterility, and rampant sexuality.'” (Not necessarily in that order.)”

    Begorrah!

    1. Those things are caused by the French, not by the potatoes.

  10. 21st amendment.
    Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

    This seems like a clear violation of the laws thereof.

    I see no obvious constitutional violation in the law. Unless they can prove it was targeted at Bombay.

    1. Nobody’s saying there’s a constitutional violation in the law. They’re arguing that the law is stupid, and that the lawyers bringing this lawsuit (and their sock-puppet plaintiff class representative, Marrache) are dicks.

  11. OT: I guess Bernie had a heart attack this week. I want to feel sympathy for him but of course he took this opportunity to promote Medicare for all. Because that would be great for people needing treatment for something as serious as cardiac arrest to have to compete for their doctor’s attention with all of the additional mounds of paperwork and patients going in to get medical attention for nothing since it’s “free”.

    Dude, just do everyone a favor, shut up about politics and spend the rest of your remaining time with the family.

    1. I guess that’s why countries that have it all have worse outcomes… Oh wait

      1. It all depends on how outcomes are defined and how the statistics are manipulated. Do you think Cuba has better outcomes than the US?

      2. US life expectancy is within weeks of all other Western nations. Diet and exercise are factors as well as health care.

        There is zero evidence that socialized medicine accomplishes anything to extend your life, and proven evidence that it infects you with socialism.

  12. Assume I’m looking for a charitable interpretation of the lawsuit – perhaps they’re trying to use the death of a thousand cuts to get at the liquor industry and get everyone drinking perrier, Red Bull (without the vodka) and carrot juice.

    1. Just kidding about the carrot juice, I wouldn’t give it to my dog when he eats the furniture, for fear they’d label the poor mutt abused and take him away from me.

    2. Gotta be a connection to White Claw, trying to muscle out the competition

  13. Instead of armed trespassing, wouldn’t it be better to note a third degree felony is also the charge for possession of any small quantity (even residue) of any hard drug? It’s Florida.

  14. I do like g a dry martini with three olives. Chilled. Great in the summer, scotch in winter. Beer year round, but, hey, it’s a food group.

  15. I see a few words later in the same law it bans capsicum, which is better known as peppers, everything from a green bell pepper to a habanero and scotch bonnet. Can’t wait for the lawsuits about that.

    1. I should be dead just from the Thai food I have ate over the years. Not to mention Cajun and Mexican.

    2. I was just reading that. It also bans cochineal, a red food die, and copperas, which is just an iron sulfate commonly used to treat anemia and due to its green hue often added to brighten the color of olives. I say someone needs to have a good long look at the stick in their martini.

  16. If Marrache hasn’t suffered any actual harm, how does he have any standing to sue?

    1. He (or his lawyers) claim he was out the $40 he paid for his bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Of course, by that kind of reasoning, every purchaser of marijuana in a state where it’s still illegal has standing to sue for a refund of the purchase price.

  17. “In 1905, Kentucky’s Lexington Herald ran a story entitled: ‘Adulterated Drinks Cause Crime Wave,’ penned by a ‘chemist who purported to have experienced effects first hand,” this week’s Herald report details.

    Yes, this is what happens when you let the people from Chem write your laws.

    1. You mean those afflicted with chemism.

  18. OK , I get it now — libertarians are opposed to laws that prevent them from getting drunk. That explains so much….

    This comment not approved by Silicon Valley brain slugs.

  19. It was just recently that they repealed the ban on absinthe I recall. It was banned because it made you crazy or something. I mean wormwood, must be like LSD with a name like that.

    Amazed you can still find tequila bottles with a worm in it because, there must be a reason.

    1. Mezcal has the worm.

  20. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $30h – $72h…how? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

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    1. Yes, but do you sell grains of paradise?

  21. Make it a Beefeaters, babe.

    1. Nope. Bombay Sapphire was my go-to gin for G&Ts until I discovered Hendricks.

      1. I like Plymouth.

  22. Yum. Wish I had some olives. It’s noon somewhere.

  23. Obviously some lawyer who found an obscure law looking for a settlement.

    1. Yes, but it started with some politicians who decided they should control commerce, rather than allow free markets to do it. There’s no telling how they abused government regulation to fatten their wallets without lots of research into water over the bridge.

      The root problem here are greedy power seeking politicians creating laws like this. A lawyer cashing in later is to be expected. Heck, there’s an industry going around suing businesses because the mirror in the bathroom isn’t placed according to regulations for the handicapped (it’s 1″ too high), the threshold is too high, and other stuff the free market takes care of.

  24. I guess next will be Fireball whiskey.

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  26. The Kitchn notes that it resembles peppercorns and has an aroma and flavor that is “a heady combination of black pepper, cardamom, lemon zest, and something warm and woodsy.”

    To be fair, Kitchn could be describing Krokodil.

  27. “Bombay Sapphire turned me into a newt ……. I got better …. Sue her!!”

  28. I should think that the fact that Aframomum melegueta roscoe is included in the FDA’s list of botanicals that are generally recognized as safe would have some weight here.

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