Drinkers of Infused Booze Need Online Alcohol Class

by: Mike Miller

Have you ever consumed infused booze? Odds are if you drink alcoholic beverages and enjoy mixed drinks – you have. Soon California bars may be able to sell infused drinks with impunity.

What will they infuse their drinks with - fruit, herbs and other flavors.

State lawmakers approved a measure clarifying a post-Prohibition section of legal code that regulators have used to crack down on bars and restaurants that imbue alcohol with different flavors. The bill by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed the state Assembly with no discussion or opposition, and now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration.

If the governor signs the bill, bartenders will be free to soak lemons in their vodka, concoct homemade sangrias, or create herb-infused cocktails without fear of punishment.

So what’s the deal and why is it an issue?

The issue arose in recent years, after the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which regulates booze, began reading the decades-old section of code that prohibits "rectification" of distilled spirits to mean that house-infused drinks are illegal under California law. That interpretation, made clear in a 2008 memo, put the damper on creative barkeeps in cities such as San Francisco, where such homemade creations had become popular.

The memo defined rectification as "any process or procedure whereby distilled spirits are cut, blended, mixed or infused with any ingredient" that "changes the character" of the alcohol. ABC officials said making drinks on the spot that include other flavor elements was all right, but that soaking anything longer in order to create a new flavor element was out of bounds.

Leno and those in the hospitality industry argued that the prohibition of these types of drinks is hurting businesses, and put an urgency clause into the bill that will allow it to take effect immediately after it is signed by the governor. Leno said the bill was drafted in consultation with ABC officials.

The code was initially written to protect drinkers from bad, homemade booze after Prohibition was lifted. ABC officials told Leno they were enforcing the arcane law in order to make sure customers were not sickened.

First infused booze becomes legal – is marijuana next?