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TN commission cracking down on fruit-infused cocktails

8:36 PM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
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By Quint Qualls / The Tennessean

Restauranteurs are concerned about the potential impact on their businesses after the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced it will issue penalties to those that infuse fruit or herbs into alcohol.

It wouldn't affect cocktails mixed and served immediately, like sangria or margaritas, said Keith Bell, Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission director. But beginning July 1, any establishment found infusing fruit or herbs into alcohol for an extended period of time will be violating the commission's new interpretation of a 2006 state law.

The restaurant industry disagrees with the commission's interpretation of the law. Matt Scanlan, a lawyer representing the Tennessee Hospitality Association, also said he's unclear why liquor infusion in restaurants should be banned. Bell cited health and welfare concerns.

"We're not familiar with any safety concerns at the vast majority of restaurants that infuse alcohol, and we're curious to hear about them," Scanlan said.

For instance, the practice of pouring large amounts of vodka over fruit in advance and allowing the flavors to meld would be illegal, Scanlan confirmed.

Randy Rayburn, owner of Nashville restaurants Sunset Grill, Midtown Cafe and Cabana, said the law threatens many restaurants around the city that offer a menu of creative drinks.

"A great deal of craft cocktails are premade," Rayburn said. "This law has the potential to disrupt a lot of craft bar styles, ranging from Red Lobster to the Catbird Seat, and that's a fact."

Representatives from the restaurant industry will meet with the commission early next week in an effort to defend the current practice of infused alcohol, Scanlan said.

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