ABC Retreats from Ban on ‘Infusion’ Mixed Drinks

The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s executive director retreated Monday from plans to begin enforcing on July 1 a law he had interpreted as prohibiting restaurants from soaking fruits and juices in alcoholic beverages to create “infused” mixed drinks.
Critics had disputed the legal interpretation and said the prohibition would hurt the business of bars and restaurants that cater to customers with specialty drinks.
In an emailed statement, Keith Bell said the TABC still believes “the process of manufacturing infused alcoholic beverages, not for immediate consumption” by those holding only a liquor-by-the-drink license is a violation of a 2006 law and ABC rules.
“The TABC nevertheless determined it to be in the public interest that the regulatory enforcement of this prohibition be indefinitely suspended,” Bell said.
The retreat came after a Monday morning meeting between Bell and representatives of groups who disagreed with his interpretation of the 2006 law, including the Tennessee Hospitality Association and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There was a full and frank discussion of the matter and what was intended and what was not” by the 2006 law, said Dan Haskell, general counsel and lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants and motels.
With enforcement of the ban on infused drinks suspended, Haskell said he now anticipates further discussion on whether the ABC needs to change its rules or the Legislature needs to clarify the law in the 2014 session.
The law in question dealt with distilleries, effectively allowing them to sell products they make on premises that amount to a pre-mixed drink — Jack Daniels Lemonade or Jack Citrus, for example, produced by the whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn.
Bell decided earlier that the language of the law prohibits anyone but distilleries from mixing fruits and juices with alcohol if they are then stored and not consumed immediately. Such storage could raise health concerns, he said.
“I think calmer heads will prevail,” said Haskell, contending the the state Department of Health, which inspects restaurants, would have raised the issue if there were any health concerns. Connoisseurs believe some period of time is needed for the “flavors to marry up,” he said.

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