Cutting Edge Craft Cocktails Test Boundaries of Liquor Laws in Tennessee and Other States

Cutting Edge Craft Cocktails Test Boundaries of Liquor Laws in Tennessee and Other States

A fabulous panel of mixologists that are upping the ante for cocktails were featured at this year's 2014 National Conference of State Liquor Administrators "NCSLA" conference. But the creative concoctions are pushing the boundaries of many state laws, including Tennessee.

The art of the craft cocktail was largely lost during Prohibition, when tipplers turned to substandard illegal spirits for a quick buzz at illicit speakeasys.

Recently, fashionable barkeeps have revived the lost art of the cocktail.  From Alchemy in Memphis, The Patterson House in Nashville, Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga to Peter Kern Library in Knoxville, craft mixology is cool.

Warren Zevon captures the moment in one of our favorites, Werewolves of London:

I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's
His hair was perfect
Aaahoo! Werewolves of London
Draw blood
Aaahoo! Werewolves of London
One hot trend is barrel aging cocktails - mixing large batches of drinks and aging them for 4 to 6 weeks in a used oak whiskey barrel.  Avoiding fruit or other ingredients that are health issues, barkeeps age craft cocktails like Manhattans or bacon old fashioneds.

Barrel aging improves consistency and is much faster to serve than scratch made cocktails.  Cocktail enthusiasts say that barrel-aged cocktails are more flavorful, better-blended and delicious.

In Tennessee, for example, barrel-aging cocktails probably runs afoul of Tennessee's recent efforts to restrict infusions.  See Section 9 of the attached new Tennessee law on infusing.  Although a bit ambiguous, we read the law as restricting infusing to 240 hours, which is a clever way of saying you must sell all infused product within 10 days.  Not long enough for barrel aging.

Hot tea drinks are also in vogue.  Bar flies enjoy the vapors and tastes of bourbon, berry and tea.

Punch cocktails are being elevated from the frat house to fashionable canteens.  One Manhattan watering hole features 10 craft punch mixtures in drink machines on Wednesdays, and then serves the concoctions for the rest of the week, until it is gone.  As long as the mixture is moving in the drink machines, the NYC health department says no bacteria can grow.  Punch is delivered to tables in a punch bowl, allowing for speedy service and well-blended flavors for a group cocktail.

In Tennessee, we hear from reliable sources that the ABC has been gathering information about bitters at several high-end cocktail purveyors.  Bitters is defined as "a liquid, often an alcoholic liquor, in which bitter herbs or roots have steeped, used as a flavoring, especially in mixed drinks, or as a tonic." 

House-made bitters are a key component for most craft cocktail enthusiasts.  From what we know, house-made bitters present thorny issues under both federal and Tennessee laws.  Stay tuned for more information.

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