Amend Vermont Liquor Regulation 43
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Outside our industry, people have goofy names for bartenders who make a certain style of drink. The mixologist. The cocktailian. Inside our industry these terms have become redundant. Craft cocktails are just cocktails. The house-made products once associated with only the most esoteric establishments are now ubiquitous. Major magazines and a new category of books teach techniques historical and cutting edge. International competitions celebrate those who have perfected the craft. Infusions don't occupy a small corner of the industry, they are it’s new standard.
An infusion is any marriage of one flavor to another, with liquor as the principle conduit for that flavor. Bitters, tinctures and liqueurs are all infusions, and in Vermont, any bar that makes their own are breaking the law. A well-intentioned statute common to many states forbids tampering with liquor. The reasoning is simple: it should be illegal to pour a well spirit into a top shelf container and charge a customer for a product she didn't receive. The unintended consequence of the law was to criminalize benign practices common to every bar in America. Until recently, this specific aspect of the law went unenforced, but the Department of Liquor Control has now begun imposing penalties for infusions.
It's not hyperbole to say this would be akin to telling a chef she can no longer marinate meat or make stock from vegetables. Cocktails are cuisine. The revitalization that has defined the last two decades of cocktails is the symbiotic result of increasingly discerning consumer demand and an inexhaustible supply of creativity from an entire generation of bartenders. This law is intended to protect the consumer but the practices it prohibits reach beyond that intention and stifles the creativity of our industry. The reason we are infusing rum with fresh, local mint is because we as bartenders want to be able to showcase fresh and local products the same way any chef would want to showcase fresh and local meats and vegetables. If there are consumers who don't want infusions they will have no trouble identifying them. None of this is done in the shadows. Bars write “house-made” on their menus specifically for the cachet.
We're not in uncharted territory. In 2010, San Francisco Bay Area bartenders saw the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (their DLC) start imposing fines for infusions, and in many cases requiring bars to dump thousands of dollars worth of product. Bartenders reached out to each other, a petition was circulated, and the law was changed in a matter of months. Under the revised statute, bars are allowed to infuse spirits on-premise for on-premise consumption. The most populous state in the country resolved the issue with no disruption to business or consumer safety, and we can do the same.
Vermont’s General Regulation currently reads:
43: Except as otherwise authorized by law or by the Liquor Control Board, licensees shall not reuse, refill or tamper with any bottle of alcoholic beverages nor shall such licensee adulterate, dilute, fortify, or cause any substitution of any nature to be made in or to the contents of any bottle of alcoholic beverages.
We would like to add the following amendment:
a. “Adulterate” does not include a licensee that colors, flavors, or blends alcoholic beverages on the licensed premise to be consumed on the licensed premise providing such alcoholic beverages are clearly labeled and identifiable by the consumer.
This small change will make a big difference.
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