Alabama ABC says ‘no’ to Margaritaville with pitcher ban

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The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) doesn’t want you wasting away in Margaritaville, so they’ve banned pitchers of the frozen concoction outright.

No, I’m not joking.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the ABC that cracked down on people drinking while dining on the sidewalks in Mobile. It’s the same ABC that cut a deal to impose a 5 percent liquor mark-up to help the Legislature and the governor enact a back-door tax hike.

Now the agency has taken to reminding licensees of its legal “interpretation” that beer is the only alcoholic beverage that may be served in a pitcher.

The ABC relies on a statutory clarification by General Counsel Bob Hill regarding Alabama code section 28-3A-25(a)(9) which says it is unlawful:

For any person to fortify, adulterate, contaminate, or in any manner change the character or purity of alcoholic beverages from that as originally marketed by the manufacturer, except that a retail licensee on order from a customer may mix a chaser or other ingredients necessary to prepare a cocktail or mixed drink for on-premises consumption.

To most of us, this code section looks like a provision to prevent people from watering down booze or selling knock-off versions – for example cutting a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon with inferior spirits and selling it to unsuspecting customers. The last part with the clear exception for preparing a cocktail for on-premises consumption would seem to remove any doubt.

Yet to the ABC, this provision apparently means that pitchers of margaritas adulterate the tequila in such a manner that renders it a hazard for unsuspecting consumers of tacos and burritos.

According to ABC’s Dean Argo, a rather nice gentleman tasked with explaining ABC’s silliness, the alcohol in a pitcher tends to settle over time. “The person who is poured the first or second drink may receive only a 0.25 to 0.5 ounce of alcohol,” he noted, “where a person receiving the third, fourth or even fifth pour may receive much more alcohol than mix.”

In short, a group of legal adults can’t figure out how to handle a pitcher of margaritas shared among them. If you didn’t hear about the bedlam recently caused by Taco Mama in Homewood, Alabama serving pitchers of margaritas, it’s because some adults in Alabama are capable of sharing a beverage in a manner that actually avoids Margarita Madness. Don’t worry though; the ABC has put an end to the restaurant’s perilous pitchers.

Argo raised a further question aimed at justifying the rule. “So, what happens if the patron decided to drink the pitcher by him-or-herself?”

The same thing that would have happened if they ordered and consumed four or five margaritas –possible brain freeze followed by intoxication. It’s up to the licensee to know when to cut off a customer. If a restaurant feels that pitchers of margaritas are too much of a liability risk, they don’t have to serve them. Then there’s the obvious point that we shouldn’t build our alcohol policies around the rare person able to slam pitchers of margaritas.

The ABC itself is premised on government control over responsible adults. It’s the nanny state gone wild. Argo further mused that “if one licensee is allowed to serve mixed drinks in a pitcher (margaritas), then other licensees would have to be allowed to serve mixed drinks (rum & coke).”

Well…yes. It shouldn’t be a crazy idea to allow legal adults to do things in Alabama that are common elsewhere around the country. We’re not talking legalizing cocaine here; it’s a pitcher of drinks that goes well with chimichangas and friends.

Not satisfied by the ABC’s interesting explanations for the pitcher ban, I followed up with the obvious question of whether a licensee could sell the requisite amount of tequila shots along with a nonalcoholic pitcher of margarita mix.

“I can’t [see] anything that would prohibit that,” said Argo. “The patron would [be] able to tell exactly the amount of alcohol he or she is getting AND the server/bar tender would be able to know when the patron becomes overserved.”

We’ll that’s a head-scratcher.

So the real danger is the alcohol settling in the pitcher, but that’s only a problem if a bar tender mixes it? If the patron does the exact same thing on the other side of the bar, then it’s completely reasonable.

Give me a break. You truly have to be overserved to buy that kind of nonsense.

This isn’t about alcohol. It hasn’t been for a long time.

It’s more evidence that Republicans in Alabama aren’t nearly as opposed to needless government control as they like to sound. The ABC and its hundreds of private leases are a cronyist giveaway from the word go. It’s one of the poorest-kept secrets in Montgomery. The ABC doesn’t even have their own law enforcement anymore, and each of the agency’s functions can be performed by other agencies or the private sector. Eliminating the ABC isn’t radical policy; the majority of our fellow states do quite well without one.

Either we believe in free markets and free people, or we don’t. I don’t care if you’re the most conservative Baptist or you own a distillery, Alabama is capable of legislating alcohol policies and enforcing them just fine without a costly layer of bureaucracy that no longer has a clear purpose other than its own preservation.


Image by Teri Virbickis

 

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