British Columbia

Illegal in B.C.: infusing spirits, barrel-aging cocktails

Barrel-aging or infusing spirits is illegal in B.C. because, if not done properly it can be deadly says the province's Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, which also confirms it is looking to update liquor laws around the practise.

Province's master bartenders say law hinders their craft, while licensing branch looks at solutions

The popular cocktail Negroni is often made by barrel-aging. (Getty Images)

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 spirits or barrel-aging allow for a convenient way for bartenders to mix a variety of flavours together. (Getty Images)

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.

Soole said he understands the reasons behind rules prohibiting infused and barrel-aging alcoholic drinks, but thinks other restrictions by B.C.'s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch should be lifted. (S Squared Hospitality Concepts/www.squaredhospitality.ca)

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."

With files from the CBC's On The Island and Khalil Akhtar. 


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: That fancy barrel-aged cocktail you ordered? It's illegal.

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