Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Are All Great Nouveau Mixology Trends Actually Illegal?
I got an e-mail newsletter today from the East Village vegetarian restaurant Counter, which has a notable cocktail program. Two items caught my attention. One: Counter had culled a good deal of praise from its trading in Popsicles Cocktail last summer. Two, the Liquor Authority caught some of that press, fined Counter $1,000 and forced it to end its frozen booze days.
This reminded me a story a few years ago of a bar in Virginia that hit it big with beer popsicles—until the authorities learned of it, and informed the bar that arcane Virginia law (since repealed) prohibits frozen beer, and shut the practice down.
I exchanged a few e-mails with Counter and was told this: "In NY state liquor has to be made from the bottles that it comes in. Premade drinks are illegal, premade sangria is illegal, infusions of any kind are illegal. Frozen drinks are legal as long as they're made in a machine. Liquor laws are Prohibition laws. We got caught because the Popsicles got a ton of press."
"Infusions of any kind are illegal." This recalled to me a February article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how California liquor sheriffs had begun descending on Bay Area bars, warning them they were breaking the law by altering alcohol by infusing it with fruits, vegetables and spices. Even Sangria was suspect, in their opinion.
The above attitude would also seem to make homemade bitters a no-no—and every ritzy cocktail bar in NYC and elsewhere has a batch of those.
And then there's the whole recent brouhaha surrounding a health inspector finding that the Pegu Club was actually serving raw egg in one of its cocktails, and ordering it (temporarily) to stop. But tons of bars in NYC slip egg into mixed drinks. Many classic drinks call for them.
It's all made me wonder. Has the 21st-century cocktail renaissance flowered either in complete ignorance or through impudent flouting of the law of the land? It would seem to be, partly, so.