Illegal in B.C.: infusing spirits, barrel-aging cocktails
Province's master bartenders say law hinders their craft, while licensing branch looks at solutions
Exotic cocktails are in demand in B.C. according to bartenders who want to up their game, but say they are hindered by one particular liquor law in the province.
In B.C. it is illegal for restaurants to 'barrel-age' or 'infuse' the alcohol they buy from the Liquor Distribution Board.
"Basically the rule states you cannot tamper with a bottle of alcohol once you bought it," said Shawn Soole, restaurant consultant and owner of S-Squared Hospitality.
Infusing spirts is when you add something like vanilla or strawberries to the alcohol and let it sit to add flavour. Barrel-aging is when you pre-batch a cocktail and place it into a barrel to age.
"The wood character mellows out the flavour profile of the cocktail as well as [a] slight oxidization of any vermouth that is in the cocktail," said Soole.
The world-class bartender says these methods allow for a convenient way for bartenders to weave a variety of flavours together.
Reasons behind the rule
Bill Anderson with the province's Liquor Control and Licensing Branch said in a statement that the law against barrel-aging and infusing liquor was put in place to help prevent the spread of illicit liquor.
"The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch is aware of the growing interest of liquor infusions and barrel-aging in current cocktail culture, and are looking into possible solutions as they continue modernizing B.C.'s liquor laws," he wrote.
Soole found out about B.C.'s law the hard way last April, when a licensing inspector came into the restaurant he was working at and confiscated their barrel-aged liquors.
"We got a little slap on the wrist," he said. "We had to change our whole program."
But Soole understands the reasons behind the rule, because if barrel-aging isn't done right, it can make a drink unsafe to consume.
"The rules are always made for the lowest common denominator. The rules aren't made for people like myself," he said.
But Soole believes something has got to give.
"If you aren't going to give us the freedom to make our own infusions and alike, then you should open up the market," he said.
He wants the province to allow people like him to purchase alcohol from private liquor stores.
"So we have a bigger selection of alcohol we can purchase from, so we don't have to do it by the case."
To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: That fancy barrel-aged cocktail you ordered? It's illegal.