A new, allegedly accidental crackdown by the California ABC on house-made, infused liquors has San Francisco bartenders freaking out and going eerily silent. Eater first reported on the scare, the Chron’s Michael Bauer lamented the loss of his beloved tarragon vodka, and now CBS 5’s Mike Sugerman investigates in a piece titled “Cocktail Crimes.” Four bars have been busted so far, though no one wants to identify themselves lest their liquor licenses be in jeopardy. Bauer couldn’t get a single bartender to speak to him about the issue, but Sugerman gets one guy to talk on camera, albeit at a totally anonymous bar that we recognize.
This all relates to a Prohibition-era law about altering distilled spirits, a law that’s never been enforced in the recent history of the San Francisco artisanal cocktail boom. It may only be considered an infraction now because the state is in such dire straits financially. As one vehemently anonymous bartender said to us, “I have a tough time believing that the ABC was unaware until this month that bars were making their own infused vodkas. That shit’s been going on for a decade.”
This mixology scare brings to mind the recent panic among NYC bartenders over an alleged health department crackdown on the use of egg whites in cocktails, which may or may not have been “eggs-aggerated.”
Though we can think of a dozen high-profile bars and restaurant bars where we’ve had some delicious, home-infused concoctions, we’ll play along here and not rattle them off, just in case someone gets all McCarthy-era angry at us for naming names (Bauer already pointed a finger at Buckeye Roadhouse’s tarragon vodka).
Los Angeles bartenders better take heed — the ABC claims this isn’t an organized crackdown, but now that they have a new weapon for fines they’ll probably use it. And suffice it to say, California, the next year or so of your lives will be sadly short on peach-infused bourbon or lemon-infused vodka.
Cocktail Crimes [CBS 5]
Are My Favorite Bartenders Going to Be Sent to Jail? [Between Meals]
Local Bars Under Fire Following Sudden ABC Crackdown [Eater]