Good news for wine growlers

Last month I noted that the Tax and Trade Bureau had issued a new ruling that would have made the increasingly popular practice of filling growlers with for wine for off-premise consumption a lot more complicated. Among other things, the rules would have required retailers to receive permission from the TTB to act as a bottling house and to keep up with various records and labeling requirements. Fortunately, the wine industry spoke up and the TTB has changed its mind [pdf]:

TTB recognizes that our existing regulations were intended to cover traditional taxpaid wine bottling activities, rather than the filling of wine growlers.

Accordingly, TTB has determined that it would be appropriate to engage in rulemaking on this issue so that we can modernize our regulations to specifically address the filling of growlers with taxpaid wine. This will allow TTB to evaluate what regulations are necessary in order to protect the revenue without unduly burdening businesses that wish to engage in this activity. This will also enable us to evaluate comments from all interested parties, including consumers, industry members, and State regulatory agencies.

In the interim, we are suspending TTB Ruling 2014-3 pending rulemaking on the filling of growlers.

Hat tip to Cole Danehower on Twitter.

Say “Grrr…” to new growler regulations

Avid beer drinkers are familiar with the “growler,” a big jug used for transporting beer from a tap to one’s home. Filled and sealed properly, they keep beer fresh and carbonated for short-term consumption. (With caveats!) They’re great for when you want to bring home a beer that’s only available on tap or want to entertain guests. Living in Portland, one of the best beer cities in the world, I’ve taken advantage of this convenience many times.

In recent years, wineries have also begun selling their wine in kegs. In some situations — properly equipped restaurants, for example — this can more cost-effective and less wasteful than dealing with bottles. And, naturally, some places with wine on tap have also begun filling growlers. Oregon and Texas have both legalized wine growler sales in various venues and Washington is following suit. Here in Oregon, licensed wineries, restaurants, bars, and retailers are all free to fill growlers with wine.

Last week, however, the Tax and Trade Bureau weighed in on the practice. First the good news: selling wine in growlers is legal under federal law. Although states had gone ahead with wine growler fills, this was apparently ambiguous. It’s good to have it clarified.

Then there’s the bad news: Selling wine in growlers is going to involve a lot more red tape than selling beer. Under federal regulations, filling a growler with beer is considered filling a large glass and doesn’t impose additional burdens. (State laws, of course, may vary.) The TTB’s new ruling [pdf] clarifies that it’s not going to be so simple for wine. Specifically, the agency has determined that filling growlers with wine for off-premise consumption is considered bottling or packing for tax purposes, and that any person engaging in the activity must first qualify as a bottling house of taxpaid wine.

This means that before they can sell wine in growlers, businesses will have to apply to and receive permission from the TTB. And once qualified as a taxpaid wine bottling house, additional regulations will come into effect for wine growlers that don’t arise with beer:

1. Proprietors will have to “keep records of taxpaid wine received, bottled or packed, and removed.”

2. Proprietors will be responsible for measuring customers’ containers and ensuring accurate fill level and alcohol content.

3. Proprietors will have to label each container with “the name and address of the premises where bottled or packed; the brand name [...]; the alcohol content; the kind of wine and the net contents of the container.” They will also be required to remove or cover any preexisting labels on containers that don’t accurately describe the new contents.

It’s not clear to me yet exactly how burdensome these regulations are going to be, but the decision does seem to put the kibosh on dreams of making wine growler fills as ubiquitous and easy as they are for beer. With more restaurants and urban wineries offering wine on tap, growler fills were poised to be a new and convenient option. Here in Portland, for example, the forthcoming Coopers Hall announced plans to open with forty different wines on tap for on-premise consumption or take-away.

Assuming they stick with the plan, they’ll have to comply with these new regulations. I’m guessing that large retailers like Whole Foods will also find it worthwhile to qualify. But depending on how much of a hassle it is to do this, I expect many other restaurants with wine on tap may not bother.

The TTB notes that the Internal Revenue Code has different provisions for wine and beer and that this is the justification for the differential treatment with regard to growlers. Absent a change in the law, their hands may be tied. But from a policy perspective, it will be disappointing if this turns out to be an effective obstacle to the further adoption of wine kegs and reusable containers.

[Hat tip to Cole Danehower on Twitter, a great source for northwest wine news. Photo used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Kaitlyn Tierney.]

Beware of CARE

Over at the Examiner, I take a look at the CARE Act, a wholesaler-backed bill that would essentially reverse Granholm v. Heald and exempt state alcohol laws from Commerce Clause challenge.

In search of the Rouge Gorge

erithacusrubeculaTwo of the most recent spirits to arrive here for sampling are the Floraison and Nouaison gins from G’Vine. These are distilled in France from Ugni Blanc grapes, the same grape commonly in use for distilling Cognac. The spirit is infused with grape flowers and other traditional gin botanicals before undergoing a final distillation. My preference is for the Nouaison, which is flavored with lime. However this post isn’t so much about the gins as it is about an unusual cocktail I came across while experimenting with them.

Credit for pointing me toward this drink goes to my friend Paul Willenberg. While tasting the G’Vine gins with me he remembered a drink he enjoyed in France called a Rouge Gorge, possibly named after the little bird pictured up top. Paul says he had it as an aperitif at Levernois. One of the only mentions of it I can find online is this:

Rouge Gorge: You Know You Want One

The place to drink this in Paris is the wonderful Alsatian restaurant “Aux Deux Canards” – try it with the pan fried fois gras.

Rouge Gorge – The recipe:

8 parts Cotes du Rhone, 5 parts good quality gin – Tanqueray or Hendricks, 3 parts Crème de Mure. Mix well, and serve slightly chilled in a brandy glass.

The combination sounds strange, but the perfume of the gin combines with the violet aromas of the Rhone wine and the fruitiness of the Crème de Mure to create an absolutely bewitching – and lethal – cocktail.

OK, this does sound strange. And it is strange. But it’s not totally off the wall. The original Martinez featured a 2:1 ratio of sweet vermouth and gin, further sweetened with a little maraschino liqueur. Though contemporary palates tend toward a flipped ratio, this isn’t that far removed from drinks served in the Golden Age of cocktails.

Still, the recipe above is a little sweet. Cutting down the blackberry liqueur brings out more of the gin. Here are the proportions I’ve settled into:

2 oz chilled Côtes du Rhône (Domaine “La Garrique” at Paul’s suggestion)
1 oz gin (G’Vine Nouaison)
.5 oz blackberry liqueur (Clear Creek)

I think the best word to describe this drink is “beguiling.” You take a sip, and you’re not quite sure what to make of it, and so you sip again. It’s better than you think it would be, and difficult to wrap your head around the flavors.

It’s a weird drink; I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Should it be enjoyed before dinner as an aperitif? After with cheese and bread? Where did it come from, and can I order one at a French bar with any reasonable expectation of the bartender knowing what I’m talking about? Googling has yet to reveal the answers, but if anyone else has experience with this unusual drink I would love to hear about it.

Nymph mania

Just when Alabama’s gourmet beer bill was starting to make the state look like a reasonable place to buy alcohol, the local control board has stepped in to ban a wine’s suggestive label:

Wine and scantily clad women may sound like some cad’s idea of a good time, but the combo spells trouble in Alabama, which last week banned the sale of a California-made wine bottle adorned with a naked nymph — helping boost its sales elsewhere in the nation.

Pursuant to the state’s administrative code, the Alabama Beverage Control Board ordered Hahn Family Wines to remove its Cycles Gladiator wines from shelves throughout the state, calling its label “immodest.” According to Hahn president Bill Legion, a small state board in Alabama rejected the artwork last year, but the ruling did not catch Legion’s eye. His apparent defiance of the state’s decision — he claims the paperwork “fell through the cracks” — led to the ban.

“It’s turned out to be a great thing for us,” laughs Legion, who says he’s received calls of support from oenophiles around the world.

The bottle’s eyebrow-raising label was designed in homage to a classic 1890s print ad featuring a lithe, long-haired cyclist clinging to a bicycle shuttling through a starry sky. The belle époque illustration has since become a popular poster, affixed to bike-shop bulletin boards and wannabe road racers’ walls.

Click through to see the label, which I think is perfectly delightful. Maybe Free the Hops will take on prudishness next?

A breathalyzer just to buy wine

The Pennsylvania government controls not just liquor sales but wine sales too, causing all kinds of inconvenience to consumers. The state is currently trying out a novel approach to making things easier:

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board here will test a self-service, wine-selling kiosk, to see if it can effectively prevent the sale of wine to underage consumers and those who are intoxicated. [...]

To purchase wine from the kiosk, a consumer would first insert her driver’s license for age and identity verification. The license barcode will be read, and the picture on the license will be matched with a video image of the consumer standing before the kiosk, Nick Hays, spokesman for the PLCB, told SN.

“The match is confirmed by Liquor Control Board employees, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, monitoring the transaction from a remote center,” he said.

Sobriety is confirmed by a built in breath sensor. It requires no contact and provides an instant blood-alcohol reading, said Hays. PLCB representatives can lock out purchases by consumers who are intoxicated. Transactions can only be completed with credit card payments.

Hey, that’s really smart! Or they could just, you know, privatize the market and let adults sell wine to each other. But that’s crazy talk.

A perfect Oregon day

The rain in Portland can be a bit much today sometimes, but every once in a while we get a perfect winter day with cool weather, mist, and Sun. Today was one of those days, so wine blogger A.A., a few friends, and I ventured out west to sip pinot noir and take in the beautiful scenery:

photo.jpg

(There’s actually a second rainbow there, but it’s hard to see in the iPhone photo.)

There are enough wineries to the southwest of Portland that one can drive out without a particular destination in mind. We visited three today, Torri Mor standing out as my favorite for both the setting and the wine. A.A. has a longer write-up here.

Spirited stigma

Now that I’m off employer-provided health insurance I’ve had to apply for individual coverage. The application understandably asks if I consume alcohol. Weirdly, it also asks what kind of alcohol: beer, wine, or liquor. I don’t know how to answer that. How many people who drink limit themselves to just one category? Oddly enough, as I was completing the application I was experimenting with a cocktail made with spirits and beer; even at that very moment I couldn’t answer the question accurately.

A more interesting question is why they were asking that. The health benefits of moderate wine consumption are well known, but they appear to accrue equally from consuming beer and liquor, and the application specifically notes the equivalence among 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1 ounce of liquor. I suspect that the question might be a kind of profiling, reflecting an assumption that people who admit to predominately drinking liquor are more likely to have problems with excessive drinking. Statistically, this might be true, but it doesn’t apply in my case. So I answered beer on the form, given that I enjoy it about as often as I do harder spirits.

Is there some other reason for the question of which I’m unaware?

Drinks links

Long-time readers know about Dublin Dr Pepper, the only version of the drink still made with sugar cane. Tariffs and corn subsidies drove the switch to high-fructose corn syrup in the 1970s. Unfortunately the Dublin plant has just a tiny distribution plant, making it a rarity outside of northern Texas. My friend Chad Wilcox introduced me to it a few years ago, and it definitely has a better taste. Chad notes that Dr Pepper week is coming up in Dublin, leading to this lengthy piece in the Dallas Observer.

In other drinks news, the Belgian company InBev is bidding for American brewery Anheuser-Busch. I can’t imagine how letting A-B getting taken over by Belgians could possibly make the company’s brews any worse, but nostalgic Americans are up in arms — including Missouri governor Matt Blunt, who’s looking for ways to legally block the deal.

It’s a big week for raw milk coverage, with stories this week from Marketplace and the Associated Press.

And finally, these seven deadly sins wine glasses spotted by BoingBoing are fantastic. Just don’t be the guy at the party who gets stuck with the envy stem.