A beer poster featuring an image of Santa? Call the authorities!

Raise your hand if you enjoy alcoholic beverages. Now raise your other hand if you love free markets. Alright, readers, you can put both your arms back down —this is not a stick-up— and continue scrolling downward.

Wouldn’t it be nice if these two went together? Of course, they do not in this grand country of ours. Every state, nay, every city, has spun fantastically complex legal codes regulating fine drink.

Eighty five years ago, the 21st Amendment repealed of Prohibition. Alas, instead of Americans being freed we merely swapped federal regulators for state and local ones.

Most obvious amongst the liberty-quashing innovations is the three tier system, which forces drinks-makers to sell to wholesalers, who then sell to retailers (shop and bars). Heaven forbid, say, a bar that’s low on Ouzo daring to purchase a bottle from a liquor store. Doing that can get a bar shut down. And if you run a distillery and want to sell to the folks who visit, well, you need another license for that —or perhaps two— and you might even be forced to purchase the liquor from yourself and then mark it up to a government dictated price.

Why? Oh, the regulators always have a reason why. One can see this quite clearly form the just-released “America’s Dumbest Drinks Laws.” My colleagues Jarrett Dieterle and Daniel DiLoreto had a hard time producing this trim volume, which you can nab freely. There are so many batty drinks laws—how to pick just 10 of them?

Well, they did, and some are doozies. Ohio, my beloved home state, “prohibits alcohol advertisements from representing, portraying or making any reference to the jolly old St. Nick.” Why, well, apparently regulators are worried children might be drawn to drinking by it.

Louisiana, meanwhile, forbids the sale of 50 ml bottles. Perhaps, the authors suggest, the law aims to reduce drunkeness. Yet, it clearly has not worked, as anyone who has stepped foot in the state knows. Just to add an extra twist of crazy—Louisiana’s legislators legalized 100 ml bottles in 2014—but retained the 50 ml ban.

To be fair, America’s state and local governments are not the only dumb regulator. For more than a century, the U.S. government disallowed American Indians from opening distilleries on reservations. Casinos are fine, and selling beer, spirits, and wines also is fine. But making liquor? No, no!

Earlier this year Mr. Dieterle helped kick up a fuss about this anachronistic law, and legislation is en route to President Donald J. Trump’s desk to abolish it. Let’s hope “America’s Dumbest Drink Laws” spurs more elected officials to root out inane drinks regulations.

Kevin R. Kosar is the vice president of policy at the R Street Institute and the author of  Whiskey: A Global History and Moonshine: A Global History. He is the editor and founder of AlcoholReviews.com.

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Unusual Drinks (Part 3)

Some of the many, many bottles. Source: AlcoholReviews.com.

Some weeks back I made a decision: I would buy no new bottles of liquor for as long as possible. My reason was not anxiety about my weight or a sudden conversion to teetotalism. No, I had simply grown tired of looking at the dozens upon dozens of bottles lining the counter and cupboards of my man cave. Nearly all of which had arrived as samples sent by drinks companies and their public relations firms.

I had intended to clear them out by throwing a free booze party for friends: show up with a bag backpack, taste anything you want, and walk out. I did this once about 15 years ago in Brooklyn, and I’ll never forget hearing the clanking of bottles departing my railroad apartment and into the Brooklyn night. And what fun we had.

That  was in my younger freer days, and now busy-ness kept me from arranging a sequel saturnalia. Might I pour them down the drain? That would be the most efficient solution. Dumping the product of nature and man, however, felt like vandalism—a sin of sorts.

What to do? A passage from Fyodor Dostoevski’s The Insulted and Injured (1861) recurred to me. “We shall have to work out our future happiness somehow by suffering; pay for it somehow by fresh miseries. Everything is purified by suffering.” Continue reading “Unusual Drinks (Part 3)”

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The Problem(s) With Sin Taxes

Source: Debtroundup.com

Have you heard the news? So-called “sin taxes” —particularly those on alcoholic beverages— are being rebranded as “health taxes.” It’s true.

I am happy that we may finally cast aside the term “sin taxes,” a label that oozes moralism. Really now, am I offending the Lord by sipping Negronis with my wife? Is it an outrage on human dignity for me to hoist a rare Tennessee whisky with a friend? Heck, the Man in the Clouds might well have gotten a laugh out of me quaffing plonk with Charo years ago. (Cuchi! Cuchi!)

I’d venture to say that when I purchase a fine bottle of spirits I am doing good for my fellow man. My purchase flows funds to the retailer who sold me the bottle, and the distiller who produced it. And, of course, the distiller —anticipating my sale— had to pay the farmer for the grain, the bottle-maker for the vessel, the paper manufacturer for the label, and his employees. Then there are the truckers who earn a good wage hauling the hooch to the shop. And this is to say nothing of the benefit conveyed to the maker of stills, the builder of barrels and shipping pallets, and so forth.

Thus, I will not drop a tear if we bid farewell to the name “sin tax.”

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other public health advocates think sin taxes should be called and viewed as “health taxes.” Certain activities and products, like gambling and booze, issue “externalities” that are born by the community collectively. They say the overwhelming evidence indicates that higher taxes on alcohol and other vices will reduce excessive consumption and the associated health costs. Continue reading “The Problem(s) With Sin Taxes”

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One Negroni, Two Negroni, Three

The Griffin Cider House & Gin Bar Negroni.

It is 10 PM, I am in a cabin, and sipping my third Negroni from a coffee cup. No, this is not the typical evening. Let me explain.

It was a very good night on the dock. Panfish were plentiful, and a couple of bass also hammered the popper I chucked with my fly rod. To surprise, my stationary rod —a beat-up Okuma spinning combo I got years ago— had not landed a channel catfish, as it had in days before. No, a snapping turtle chomped on the cut bluegill I had put out. I probably have made 100 casts to this corner of the lake. Never had I caught a turtle. And here it was clomping across the boards and hissing at me with a hefty circle hook half out its vicious beak.

All in all, the night felt like a culmination of my fishing experience at Punderson Lake, 150 acres of beautiful water and cut into the earth by a glacier thousands of years ago. So why not celebrate with a beverage?

The beer was gone; likewise the tonic. The only elixirs in the fridge were mostly empty bottles of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I had had gin on ice straight the previous night. A Negroni it was. Again.

Continue reading “One Negroni, Two Negroni, Three”

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Old whisky, new mezcal, and other unexpected spirits

Photo: Kevin R. Kosar

A few months back, a friend came to town from Tennessee. His schedule was jammed as was mine, but I was eager to see him. He works in insurance and I inevitably learn a lot when he explains  the various fallouts of Obamacare and Trump’s subsequent war against it.

“I have something from George Dickel to bring you for review,” he added. That was that. Logistics be damned, we were going to meet.

He came by my office and pulled from his bag a small of gold from Tullahoma—George Dickel Reserve 17-Year Old Tennessee Whisky (43.5% ABV; 87 proof). There is a whole cockamamie story about how this whisky was a happy accident; some barrels got mis-inventoried or somesuch. I love the folks at Dickel but I am not sure I buy it. That, however, is neither here nor there. This is the longest aged Tennessee whiskey to be found, and you can sip it straight with ease. The deep copper liquor offers notes of corn, white pepper, caramel, apple, and toffee. Wow.

George Dickel 17-Year is not cheap. A half-sized bottle (375 ml) runs around $75. But for the American whiskey fan, or for friends enjoying a rare meet-up, it is more than worth it.

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Being a drinks writer has its perks. One never knows when a courier will arrive with an unexpected delivery. On occasion I have shrank back in horror when I opened a box to find dill pickle vodka or a similarly evil concoction. Typically, though, I receive good drinks.

So it was that I met the acquaintance of La Luna Mezcal, a new entrant to the American market. The bottle I received is numero 307 from Lot 7, and weighs in at a whopping 49.56% ABV (99.12 proof). Continue reading “Old whisky, new mezcal, and other unexpected spirits”

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