California cracks down on craft cocktails

Eater San Francisco reports on how outdated California liquor laws are getting in the way of serving good cocktails:

Now, these spurts of [Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] enforcement happen every once in a while and eventually things go back to normal after a quick flurry (i.e., bars make extra sure to have no drinks on the bar post 2AM, they watch out for stings with minors), but this time around, it was different. Maybe ABC workers are under pressure, maybe the state needs to generate cashflow, but whatever the conspiracy theory, it’s been more vicious than usual, especially among some of the city’s high-profile cocktail joints. […]

… the one garnering the most outcry from the cocktail bars is the crackdown on elixirs, bitters, and similar infusions. Technically, it’s illegal to modify liquors, per a Prohibition-era law that was put in place to ensure the public that bars wouldn’t tamper with the alcohol, unbeknownst to the customer. Obviously, nowadays, pretty much all of the well-known “artisanal” cocktail places make their own house syrups and whatnot, and it’s unlikely that a yuzu bitter (or whatever is in that 10-ingredient drink) is misleading the public. It’s one thing to crack down on underage drinking, but it’s another to take aim at the outdated laws, which one bar owner described as the equivalent of issuing multiple jaywalking tickets all of a sudden. It’s salutary neglect, you see.

Details are scarce, but this looks like another example of archaic post-Prohibition laws failing to keep up with modern drinking culture. The law was probably written to prevent fraudulent practices such as refilling expensive liquor bottles with cheap hooch to fool customers, but applied literally it apparently also forbids the creative use of spirits as raw ingredients in infusions and such. Uses like these do not mislead or harm consumers in any way; only the government benefits from suddenly enforcing these old regulations by collecting the associated fines.

The nanny state vs. egg drinks
Virginia’s Archaic Beverage Commission


2 thoughts on “California cracks down on craft cocktails”

  1. New to the site and am already a huge fan. Love the blend of politics and cocktail culture (also OBG member and Poly Sci major). The good thing about these gov’t crackdowns is that it should open cocktailian minds on the issues of liberalism. If you are a bartender, you should be a budding capitalist if you are doing your business and trade justice. I’m not aware of any NPO bars, how about you? Keep up the good work!

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