Category Archives: Drinking & the Law

Five Wives Vodka Approved in Utah, Banned in Idaho

But Mormons don’t drink, so…

Five Wives Vodka has been sold in Mormon-dominated Utah since December without creating too much of a stir, according to the distillery. But the brand — and its not-so-subtle reference to polygamy — is too much for liquor regulators in neighboring Idaho.

“We feel Five Wives Vodka concept is offensive to a prominent segment of our population and will not be carried,” according to a letter from the Idaho State Liquor Division to an Idaho distributor wishing to carry it. (Brand owner Ogden’s Own Distillery posted the letter.)

Maker’s Mark Granted Trademark Protection for Red, Dripping Wax

Maker’s Mark’s red wax seals are so iconic that if you visit the distillery, you’ll find a massive line of people paying to dip their own bottle of Maker’s into a vat of bubbling wax — a unique keepsake from Bourbon Country, to be sure.

In 1985, Maker’s trademarked the red wax seal, much to the consternation of the rest of the industry, which also tends to enjoy dipping bottles in wax from time to time. In 1997 Jose Cuervo released its own red-wax-dipped tequila, and the lawsuits started flying. Now, an appeals court has upheld Maker’s sole claim to the look — litigation has been going on for the last nine years — giving the Bourbon-maker sole claim to the sealant system.

AP has the story:

In a 19-page opinion affirming that decision, Judge Boyce F. Martin waxed poetic about the history of Kentucky’s most famous distilled spirit. Martin, who noted at oral arguments in December that “Maker’s Mark is not cheap,” displayed a detailed knowledge of the history and manufacture of bourbon, writing that “corn-based mash and aging in charred new oak barrels impart a distinct mellow flavor and caramel color.”

“Distillers compete intensely on flavor, but also through branding and marketing; the history of bourbon, in particular, illustrates why strong branding and differentiation is important in the distilled spirits market,” Martin wrote.

He even cited the bourbon brands preferred by 19th century statesmen such as Ulysses S. Grant and Daniel Webster.

The Samuels family, which created Maker’s Mark in 1958, trademarked the distinctive seal in 1985. The seal, perfected by Margie Samuels in the family’s deep fryer, doesn’t serve any practical purpose in keeping the bottle closed.

The trademark held by Maker’s Mark describes the seal as a “wax-like coating covering the cap of the bottle and trickling down the neck of the bottle in a freeform irregular pattern.” The trademark application doesn’t refer to a specific color, but Maker’s Mark told the court it has sought to enforce the trademark only as it applied to the red dripping wax seal.

AlcoHAWK Personal Breathalyzer Roundup

How drunk are you? No, really? How do you know?

If you’re a regular imbiber, it’s a good idea to test yourself once in awhile to make sure you’re OK to drive. 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) is the maximum legal level in most states, but knowing if you’re over that threshold can be difficult (particularly as you get closer and closer to it).

Portable blood alcohol testers can be helpful, but many require patience and luck to get them to work properly. Here’s a look at two very different models from AlcoHAWK, one of the leaders in personal breath analyzers.

AlcoHAWK Slim Ultra fits in a pocket and is about the size of a cell phone. The unit works well… when it works. Making that happen requires blowing into the unit for five seconds, turning it on, then waiting for it to count down from 100 to zero, a process that can take several minutes. Then, more often than not, the unit signals that it has an error. You have to repeat the entire process from scratch, then hope for the best. Sometimes you need one reboot, sometimes four. We never got it to work right on the first try, but when we did finally get it going, it offered results exactly in line with the more professional tester (accurate to three decimal places) that we had to compare with. B / $50 [BUY IT HERE] (pictured)

AlcoHAWK One Test is a single-use breath alcohol tester that has pretty limited value no matter what you’ve been up to that evening. It’s a slim tube the size of a cigarette that works only once. To use it, you puncture both ends, then blow into it like a straw. You then wait basically wait until the yellow crystals inside turn green. If the level of greenness crosses the line and red dot on the tube, you’re over 0.05% BAC — and presumably you shouldn’t drive. The accuracy is questionable, and I imagine if you are drunk enough to see a lot of green crystals in here, you know you shouldn’t be driving anywhere. But at least it’s portable. C / $20 for five [BUY IT HERE]

alcohawk slim ultra AlcoHAWK Personal Breathalyzer Roundup

More on Duty Free Shopping

My post “Is Duty Free Ever a Good Deal?” generated a bit of discussion, and quite by coincidence, I just found that this quarter’s Malt Advocate magazine has a lengthy look at duty free (aka “travel retail”) shopping, too.

The story can be found here on page 52 (registration required if you view too many pages), and it does back up my key point: That (at least in regard to whiskey and Europe) prices aren’t very good in duty free shops. The magazine actually has a good explanation as to why this is the case: Leasing retail space in an airport is ghastly expensive, so you can’t expect great deals in most places.

As many readers have also noted, the story notes that duty free shops are best used for shopping for products that aren’t sold anywhere else. Many distilleries offer “travel retail only” products that never make it to BevMo.

The story also has some good advice: Check the website for the airport you’ll be flying out of and you might very well find the products offered and the prices for those products right there, so you can plan on what you want to buy before you ever leave for your trip. (Oh, and the best travel retail shop for the whiskey drinker: World of Whiskies, found in various UK airports, with three outlets alone in Heathrow.)

Check out the summer 2010 issue for the full scoop!

Is Duty Free Ever a Good Deal?

International travelers, you know the drill: You can bring in up to one liter of booze without paying the duty on it. And if they have a special name for it (“the duty!”), that must be a lot of cash, right? Hence the existence of duty free shops in every international airport on earth.

But how much is the duty on wine and spirits anyway?

This took some research to uncover and I finally dug it up: Not much. About $2 to $3 per liter for most alcoholic products, after your first liter (which is automatically duty free).

Duty free shops promise to take the duty and any taxes out of the price for you, making your shopping theoretically cheaper. The catch, though, is that if you overshoot your one-liter limit, you still have to pay the duty yourself when you arrive home.

The bigger issue, though, isn’t the duty, it’s the prices. Just because a shop is duty free, doesn’t mean it will be cheap, and anyone who’s bought a hamburger at the airport knows how pricey everything can get. Duty free is no exception, and during my recent overseas jaunt I spot-checked several airports looking for deals. I found literally no wine or spirits on sale anywhere that were cheaper than I knew I could get them back home, even after taxes. And I’d have to lug a bottle halfway around the world. In some cases, the prices were much higher (like 50 euros (about $62) for a 1-liter bottle of Ron Zacapa 23 (about $40 for 750ml in the states, or $53 pre-tax for a liter).

Bottom line: Browse those Duty Free aisles to your heart’s content, but you’re probably better off shopping locally once you return home.

France to (Finally) Raise Drinking Age to 18

Sorry, les enfants! At long last, it looks like France — where you can drink beer and wine as young as 16 years old — is going to raise its drinking age to 18.

The good news: As has always been the case, no one is likely to ask for ID. From the AP story:

Deputies in the National Assembly late Monday approved an amendment to a health ministry bill raising the legal age limit from 16 to 18 for both alcohol and tobacco sales, bringing France in line with most of Europe.

With underage drinking on the rise across Europe, according to a recent study, the French bill, which still needs Senate approval, would allow mayors to ban take-away sales of alcohol at night in their towns.

The law will also outlaw open bars, seen as encouraging binge-drinking, as well as alcohol sales in road service stations after 6:00 pm.

Good luck with that, France!

75th Anniversary of Prohibition’s Repeal

75 years ago, this blog would not have been possible. Never mind that computers and the Internet didn’t exist — alcohol was illegal, too!

On December 5th, Prohibition’s Repeal celebrates its 75th anniversary: It was 1933 when we were finally cured of our disastrous 13-year run of bathtub gin and bootlegging. Colorful times, to be sure, but hardly the way a sophisticated country works.

Check out more information about the big event at the Jeff Morgenthaler’s RepealDay.org or the Distilled Spirits Council’s ProhibitionRepeal.com website. And, it should go without saying, knock a couple back today!

The Really Are Gonna Nickel and Dime Us…

Well, nickel us, anyway:

Nickel-a-drink tax: Effective Jan. 1, 2009 Schwarzenegger would hike the alcohol taxes in the stat by a nickel per drink (defined as 1.5 ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine)

What it would bring in: $293 million in 208-09 and $584 million in 2009-10.

Funny, we did the same thing back in 1990.

Actually, I’m fine with this. If you’re going to tax something, alcohol is totally fair game. If you’re sober enough to protest, this really isn’t going to affect you, anyway.