Rectification Is Not Infusion, Senate Bill Says

One of the more intriguing – and powerful – words found in the state’s alcoholic beverage laws is “rectifier.”

The word is also the subject of legislation that would change its definition to allow bars and restaurants to create their own infused drinks.

A reaction to a crackdown by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on creators of drinks like lemoncello, the measure by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, would allow bars and restaurants to continue to infuse alcohol by saying that isn’t the same as “rectification” under California’s liquor laws.

A rectifier is someone who “colors, flavors or otherwise processes distilled spirits by distillation, blending, percolating, or other processes.”

A separate license beyond what’s called an “on-sale” liquor license is required by the state to be a rectifier.

The catch is if someone holds an on-sale license – the type bars and restaurants have – they can’t also have a rectifier license.

Same goes for supermarkets and grocery stores that have “off-sale” licenses.

Adding anything – fruit, vegetables, spices – to vodka or rum or other distilled spirits that changes its character constitutes “rectification.”

Leno and supporters of his bill argue the law is archaic, aimed at preventing persons being served adulterated booze like moonshine.

“At a time when small businesses are struggling to survive, this bill eliminates outdated regulation and allows entrepreneurs to continue participating in this practice (of infusion) that is popular in San Francisco and other cities across the state,” Leno wrote in defense of his bill.

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control counters that infusing alcohol falls squarely within the definition of rectification.

In a May 2008 “industry warning” the department says rectification is when spirits are “cut, blended, mixed or infused with any ingredient which reacts with the constituents of the distilled spirits.”

And, in 2010, the department’s agents began issuing citations and warnings to bars and restaurants selling in fused alcohol.

Leno counters that mixing designer drinks is not production.

His measure, SB 32, distinguishes infusion from rectification this way:

A rectifier does not include “an on-sale licensee that colors, flavors, or blends distilled spirits or wine products on the on-sale licensed premises to be consumed on the licensed premises.”

Infusion is a district issue for Leno who says an estimated 50 percent of eating and drinking establishments in San Francisco serve infusions.

And, he argues, it’s an economic issue. As a result of the department’s warnings and subsequent crackdown, infusions came off menus around the state harming business.

The bill was sent by unanimous vote to the Assembly on April 14.




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