California Repeals Alcohol Infusion Ban

Staff Writer
Bars and restaurants free to age, infuse wine and liquors
California Repeals Alcohol Infusion Ban
Bar Pican

Vieux Carré is a traditional New Orleans drink made of equal parts rye whiskey, brandy, sweet vermouth and Benedictine liqueur and bitters. Gowdy’s batch has been aging for three weeks and may require an additional two to six weeks of maturation time, he said.

Across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, at two-and-half-year-old Picán, bar manager Josh Perry said he was “ecstatic” that the Leno bill has become law.

The clarification of the law “gives us bartenders a lot to work with” in terms of “enhancing existing product” and having a wider reign within which “to experiment and try new flavors and combinations,” Perry said.

According to Perry, 120-seat, Southern-cuisine inspired Picán is known for a bacon-infused bourbon used in its Old Fashioned; a smoked brisket-infused bourbon for a Manhattan; and lavender-infused vodka.

Leno championed the change as a result of confusion that arose more than a year ago, when the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, began notifying bar owners that the code section in question prohibited them from being a “rectifier.” As defined by the original code and interpreted by the ABC, a rectifier was anyone who colors, flavors or otherwise processes distilled spirits by distillation, blending, percolating or other longer curing processes.

As revised, the California code section excludes from the definition of “rectifier” any on-sale licensee infusing flavors into wines or spirits meant for consumption on his or her premises.

The ABC’s interpretation of the code did not go so far as to ban bars from inserting or muddling essences into alcohol while preparing beverages, such as a mint julep, for immediate consumption. Nonetheless, it caused consternation among California on-premise purveyors of exotic cocktails, some of whom used infused spirits or wines in signature drinks.