More Details Emerge About the ABC's Infused Booze Bust

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Organic mandarin- and lemon-infused gins are strictly prohibited! Photo: Jay Barmann

We were reluctant to name names lest we get blackballed by bartenders across town, but the Chron went ahead today and spilled the beans that two of the bars busted in the recent alcohol board crackdown on infused liquor were Rickhouse and their brother bar, Bourbon & Branch, where two infused-booze cocktails on their menu are now stamped "Prohibited" in keeping with the bar's 1920s speakeasy theme. The Chron also went knocking on the doors of bars like Roe in SOMA, who innocently has kept up with their Infused Vodka Happy Hour, having heard nothing about the crackdown.

We also learn from Chris Albrecht of the ABC that sangria, while not technically made from a distilled spirit, apparently lies in a gray area, where it's only legal if it doesn't marinate for too long. Albrecht elaborates, albeit vaguely, suggesting that enforcement of this arcane law will be on a case-by-case basis. "People need to make their own decisions looking at the overall picture and the approach we've taken to this subject historically."

The ABC has been holding this fine-collecting weapon in its quiver for a while: Two years ago they issued an "advisory" saying that agents had discovered bars "engaging in rectification" without a proper license. No one noticed this advisory, of course, because no one understood what "rectification" was the ABC defines it as "any process or procedure whereby distilled spirits are cut, blended, mixed or infused with any ingredient which reacts with the constituents of the distilled spirits and changes the character and nature or standards of identity of the distilled spirits."

Still, they waited a full two years without further warnings before issuing any fines, probably aware that they'd be catching bars by surprise. Is this fair? Probably not. Does the law need to be re-written to accommodate today's artisanal bar culture? Yes, especially at a time when house-made infusions and tinctures are necessary and harmless ingredients to good mixology, and they bear little resemblance to the moonshine and watered down booze from a century ago.

State Warns Bay Area Bars Not to Infuse Drinks
[Chron]
Earlier: Bars Running Scared as Alcohol Board Cracks Down on Infused Booze [Grub Street]