26-Feb-2010 (Fri)
Wherein the War on Infusions gets some more press.

This story seems to have some legs; maybe ABC has finally done something absurd enough that the general public will take notice!

Here's a Chronicle article which finally outs Bourbon and Branch as one of the recently-harassed bars:

State warns Bay Area bars not to infuse drinks

On a recent Friday night, they entered the speakeasy-themed Tenderloin tavern and warned bartenders they were breaking California law by altering alcohol - infusing it with the flavors of fruits, vegetables and spices.

At Bourbon and Branch, where the owners declined to comment, the Clermont Affair remains on the menu. So does the Stan Lee Sour, which features gin infused with hibiscus and jasmine. But customers can't order them. Fitting with the bar's theme, the cocktails are now stamped "Prohibited."

There was a three minute segment about it on the local TV news a couple days ago. It was a fairly neutral piece, but I found their smirking attitude irritating. It's like they're saying, "Gosh, isn't this a hilarious little piece of info-tainment, isn't this quirky." Well, it's not very funny to the people who are probably going to have to fight this nonsense in court.

Their credulous and implicit acceptance that whatever ABC claims that the law says must, by definition, actually be what the law says was also irksome.

But I guess that's why I don't watch TV news.

And finally, this afternoon, John Hinman was on the radio on The Karel Show talking about this. The official archive is here, but I've clipped out just Hinman's interview and saved it here.

But enough about that. Come out to our irregularly-scheduled circus party Bohemian Carnival tonight. It is always amusing, and we haven't had one of these since July!

15 Responses:

  1. xephyr says:

    It seems clear they don't want cool clubs there. I think you should come to Austin where people like cool clubs.

  2. remaker says:

    So is the state outlawing, say, flavored vodka as well? Or are only bartenders outlawed from flavoring drinks?

    • vordark says:

      It's a bartender thing. They appear to be arguing that putting peppermint in a bottle of vodka is the same thing as making moonshine in your basement.

    • jwz says:

      People who manufacture flavored vodka have a "rectification" license (like a brewer's license).

      But here's the catch: because of the "tied house" rules that prevent distillers from owning bars, nobody who has a rectifiers license may also have an "on-sale" license, and vice versa.

      There are specific, very narrow exceptions for situations like wineries selling glasses of wine on-site, and a completely distinct license for brew-pubs, but as I understand it -- if ABC's interpretation of this law is correct, which it is not -- there exists no license which allows someone to both mix and serve sangria.

      But ABC's interpretation of the law is nonsensical. Their notion about the distinction between serving it immediately, and letting it sit for a while first, is completely made-up. It does not exist in the code. If sangria, infused vodka and limoncello are "rectification", then so is every cocktail ever made, and therefore all cocktails are illegal.

      So their brand-new interpretation of this decades-old law is a joke. It's simply harassment.

      • ext_31109 says:

        Where I come from every cocktail made in a licensed premises has to be made in the following way:

        1. Take legal measures of spirits - typically using optics, but various methods are sanctioned.
        2. Mix them together with whatever you like, however you like

        The result is that if you buy a cocktail from a bar where the (large print, legally required) sign says measures are 35ml, and it says it has "vodka" in it, there ought to be 35ml of vodka in that cocktail. If they (mistakenly, or on purpose) put say 28ml of vodka into the drink, that's not a legal measure and they can have their license taken away. Maybe it would taste better with slightly less vodka in it, but that's hard luck.

        These rules were invented as a consumer protection measure, along with various other restrictions and requirements, so that it was possible to walk into a bar and figure out what you were getting for your money, and to prohibit adulteration.

        This approach seems completely sane, and yet it seems to me that it bans "infusions" or other ideas where the bar owner gets to mix whatever he likes in the punters drinks and claim it's OK, while permitting traditional cocktails.

        • jwz says:

          Fortunately, I do not live in a part of the world that mandates "measured pours". I've been to those places, and you can't get a decent cocktail there to save your life. Measured pour transforms the job of bartender from a "food production" job to a "food service" job. It removes all the discretion and skill by mandate. It's the difference between a cook, and simply running the cash register.

  3. supersat says:

    Sounds like you need to start a wholly-owned subsidiary with its own rectification license... unless that would subject you to another minimum markup law like they have here in Washington.

  4. jabberwokky says:

    Does this mean that Jello shots are illegal? Do clubs these days even have Jello shots? I haven't been to a non-restaurant with a liquor bar other than to see a band or perform myself in many years. I'm trying to think of any other things that are, by necessity, prepared in advance (other than infusions).

    • jwz says:

      My lawyer tells me that yes, jello shots would be considered illegal under ABC's current interpretation of the code.

      (But since I'm neither in Miami nor a frat, I've never seen a jello shot for sale at a bar.)