Note to Readers: I wrote this article in 2010. On September 21, 2011, Section 23016 of the CA Business & Professions Code was amended to allow on-sale licensed businesses to color, flavor, or blend distilled spirits or wine products on their on-sale licensed premises to be consumed on the licensed premises. -Lauren Tyson
The food and drink editor at the San Francisco Chronicle recently blogged about the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and its recent investigations of restaurants with liquor licenses that are reportedly infusing (“rectifying”) distilled spirits with other ingredients.
Another blogger jumped on the bandwagon and called ABC investigators “thugs.”
The number of negative reader comments on these blogs just astounded me. Sometimes when people have negative feelings about law enforcement agencies, they seem to get blown out of proportion.
Here are some of the issues raised, along with some information based upon my 29 years experience with the Alcoholic Beverage Control:
1. What is rectification?
The Alcoholic Beverage Control issued an Industry Advisory in 2008, which explains rectification:
Rectification is 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. One example of rectification is, but not necessarily limited to, creating products such as ‘lemoncello’ or ‘limoncello’ in which sugar and citrus products are combined with vodka and stored, initiating a maturation process which consequently changes the character and nature of the vodka, and possibly its alcohol content. The simple mixing of alcoholic beverages with other ingredients for immediate consumption is not considered rectification. [Emphasis added.]
2. Who can rectify?
Any person who rectifies requires a Rectifier’s license issued by the Alcoholic Beverage Control. This type of license, with a few exceptions carved out by the legislature, is not issued to anyone holding a retail license such as a bar or restaurant. Section 23368 of the California Business and Professions Code says:
“23368. A rectifier’s license authorizes the person to whom issued to cut, blend, rectify, mix, flavor, and color distilled spirits and wine upon which the excise tax imposed by Part 14 of Division 2 of the Revenue and Taxation Code has been paid, and, whether so cut, blended, mixed, flavored, or colored by him or any other person, to package, label, export, and sell the products to persons holding licenses authorizing the sale of distilled spirits.”
3. Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators are a bunch of thugs and bureaucrats
Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators are well educated, highly-trained law enforcement professionals who have a job to do. Protect public health and safety. Just like police and firefighters. Their job is to enforce existing laws created by the California legislature. They actually do it very well. California is viewed as one of, if not the, finest liquor control agencies in the U.S, and a model for other agencies throughout the country in terms of effective, efficient and fair licensing, enforcement and prevention.
4. “Mixologists . . . bring revenue to the ABC through sales”
ABC is a special fund agency. It is funded entirely from license fees paid by the alcoholic beverage industry (retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers). It also receives grants for special programs (such as decoy programs) through the California Office of Traffic Safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All revenue from the fines ABC collects goes directly into the State’s General Fund.
5. One of the blog comments said, “Is there a meeting at the [Alcoholic Beverage Control] with a bunch of people sitting around deciding that it’s time to focus more attention on recipe creation than, let’s say–underage drinking?”
ABC doesn’t have time to sit around and ask, “Who are we gonna pick on this week?” Investigations are based on complaints. These complaints may come from competitors, disgruntled employees, parents, spouses, local law enforcement, public health officials or others.
When investigators are at restaurant or bar based upon a complaint, they may discover another violation at the same time.
Sales to minors and underage drinking is one of the Department’s highest enforcement priorities. They will even respond 24-7 to any alcohol-related emergency involving a minor, to trace the source of the alcohol.
6. What are the consequences of rectifying without the proper license?
A retailer who does so would be misusing their license privileges. It’s not likely a business owner or bartender will get carted off to jail for it. However, the Alcoholic Beverage Control could issue a warning or file an accusation resulting in a suspension or fine. It looks at each case individually and decides what to do.
If people feel that bartenders should be allowed to rectify, they should contact their local legislator. Meantime, Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators are obliged to enforce existing laws in a fair and impartial manner — far from thuggery. I don’t know if that’s a word or not, but it sure seems to fit.