Food and drink often go hand in hand, but when they become one, problems related to California’s rectification laws can arise. In early 2010, several bars in San Francisco were hit with a rude awakening when agents from California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Department informed them that serving house-made infused alcoholic beverages could be considered illegal under section 23355.1 of California’s Business & Professions Code. The code section deals with distilled spirits manufacturers and their agents. Part (b) of the code reads:
“A distilled spirits manufacturer, distilled spirits manufacturer’s agent, distilled spirits rectifier general, or rectifier may store, bottle, cut, blend, mix, flavor, color, label, and package distilled spirits owned by another distilled spirits manufacturer, distilled spirits manufacturer’s agent, distilled spirits rectifier general, rectifier, or a distilled spirits wholesaler, and may deliver those distilled spirits from the premises where stored, bottled, cut, blended, mixed, flavored, colored, labeled, or packaged, or from a warehouse located in the same county as that premises for the account of the owner of those distilled spirits to any licensee that owner would be authorized to deliver to under his or her own license, except to a retail licensee.”
Essentially, the code requires a license to be a distilled spirits rectifier, however, such a license cannot be granted to establishments that hold on-sale or off-sale licenses. The law, which seems to have originated in order to ensure that patrons received the actual beverage they ordered, as opposed to a watered down version of such beverage, can be read broadly to ban infused alcohol items that sit for longer than an ordinary cocktail mixing period of a few minutes. The house-made bitters and infused alcohols that can be found on many Bay Area menus can be seen as falling into this category.
In 2008, the ABC issued this advisory warning against engaging in rectification without a permit. Business owners met with Senator Mark Leno and ABC officials in March of 2010 to discuss the wording of the law and enforcement issues. It appears that as a result of the meeting ABC will back away from enforcing the provision; however, until the law is changed to clear up the wording, it remains an issue. Given the Bay Area’s adventurous food and drink scene, it is important to remember that when food and alcohol combine, even in ways that may seem minor, new and often unheard of regulations can be triggered. Make sure you’re thinking about these issues when developing a drink menu, after all if ABC is thinking about it, you should be too.
Alcohol.law Digest is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
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