'Outdated law' has liquor sellers making changes

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Bartenders are saying a state regulation cuts into their creativity.

You might have seen it circulating online. Hundreds of signatures on a petition from Vermont bartenders demanding change to an old regulation that they say keeps them from trying new things with your drinks.

Whether you like them shaken or stirred, craft cocktails are creative in Vermont.

But local bartenders say a recent crackdown by the state liquor department is a buzzkill.

"Something that people loved here at El Gato is our infused tequilas," said Tree Bertram, El Gato owner.

El Gato was recently fined $510 by the state for putting peppers in their tequila. That's illegal under current Vermont rules which ban businesses from changing liquor and then putting it back in a bottle.

"The law is definitely past its time," said Bertram.

The Vermont Department of Liquor Control agrees the regulation is pretty old. But they say it does help to protect you from someone watering down booze, swapping in cheap liquor, or doing infusions that could make you sick. That's what they say one woman claimed happened to her.

"It became an issue as a result of this complaint," said Gary Kessler, deputy commissioner of the Department of Liquor Control.

Kessler says they don't want to discourage creativity. But they have to enforce the rules.

"We just want to make sure that it's done in a way that is safe and protects public health and the product, as well," said Kessler.

Bartenders told us infusions are now an industry standard and they help restaurants in a competitive food scene like Burlington set themselves apart.

"When something leaves the bottle, we're changing it to make it into something that is our own," said Eddie DiDonato, bar manager at Monarch & the Milkweed.

When Monarch & the Milkweed was alerted to the rule they got rid of their infused spirits. They told us making infusions on the spot is not practical.

"That's something that you pretty much want to have ready when the order comes in," said DiDonato.

"You see it all the time on menus and they'll say house-made, house-infused, house this," said Sarah Barry, El Cortijo General Manager.

But at El Cortijo, you won't find their popular serrano-infused tequila on the menu anymore. They've tried other options but, "we haven't found anything that really is the same," said Barry.

Barry and others want to work with the state to find a compromise. And the liquor department says it's on board, too.

"We'll try to come up with something that will work for everyone in the end. That's the goal," said Kessler.

The Department of Liquor Control says they've already started talking to the Bartender's Guild about ways that the regulation might be updated in the future. Their next meeting is Friday.