Monday, February 18, 2013

Beverage Battles in Boise (and Beyond)

Infused liquors have been gracing modern cocktail menus for some time now; in fact, they're so well-established that the New York Times and Martha Stewart were on the bandwagon years ago. But earlier this month, bartenders in Boise found their happy hours turned upside down, when the Idaho Alcoholic Beverage Control Unit confiscated their flavor-enhanced spirits during routine inspections.

The reason for the raids on basil-flavored vodka and bacon-infused whiskey? Idaho Statutes § 23-921, which says, "It shall be unlawful for any licensee to sell, keep for sale, dispense, give away, or otherwise dispose of any liquor in the original containers or otherwise than by retail sale by the drink." Police Lt. Russ Wheatley told local media, "From our perspective, [bars] have to sell liquor by the drink...You can't take it out of a bottle, replace it and then sell it again. That is illegal. This is really a consumer protection issue. We don't know what people are putting in those bottles." Wheatley noted that no bar owners were issued citations for their offending concoctions, but could face legal consequences during future inspections for subsequent violations.

Of course, not every state takes such a strict stance against serving liquor infusions. In fact, each state regulates alcoholic beverages a little bit differently. So keeping track of the minutiae of local sales laws, dram shop liability, and even "happy hour" regulations can be a dizzying endeavor. Luckily, a number of government websites maintain 50-state surveys of various alcohol-related legislation.

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism maintains APIS: Alcohol Policy Information System. It's a large web portal of current alcohol-related laws which also traces their evolution over time. Topics include the regulation of beer, wine and liquor sales, restrictions on Sunday sales, and open container laws. The tab navigation under each topic allows users to view a chart of the most current data (including specific state code citations), a timeline of changes to the law since the 1990s, and a handy map display of the state laws.
  • Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Laws (2012) is published biennially by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unsurprisingly given its pedigree, the 500+-page report focuses on impaired driving laws, but also summarizes dram shop laws (i.e., liability of bars and liquor stores for providing alcohol to someone who later causes injury) and happy hour restrictions.
  • Similar overviews of state drunk driving laws can be found at the National Conference of State Legislatures' Alcohol Impaired/Drunk Driving page.

50-state surveys are a useful tool for comparing a legal topic across all U.S. states. They can be found in LexisNexis, Westlaw, and free on the web; the easiest method to locate a survey on a particular topic is by searching the online Subject Compilations of State Laws library in HeinOnline (the print version is also available in our Reference collection). For help finding a 50-state survey on this or any other topic, be sure to Ask a Librarian.