As you may have heard, I started a campaign last fall that I called “Raise the Bar.” It was an effort to lift state restrictions on infusing alcohol in restaurants and bars. Our own Sen. Joe Bolkcom crafted the idea into bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate nearly unanimously, 48-2. Recently, behind closed doors in the Iowa House State Government Committee, the bill was quietly euthanized. No explanation given, no word on who killed the bill or why.
A little background: What we (I received considerable support from the Iowa Restaurant Association and fellow restaurant and bar owners statewide) were trying to do was make it legal for bartenders to do what you are perfectly allowed to do at home — infuse flavors like vanilla or raspberry into spirits like vodka or whiskey. Perfectly legal in dozens of other states. There is no fermentation or distillation of any sort involved in the process; it is merely a way for creative bartenders to bring you some interesting new flavors in your libations. The laws preventing it not only ban “adulteration” of liquor but also their storage in any container besides the original bottle. This all dates back to pre-prohibition laws that were aimed at the less-than-scrupulous tavern owners of the day who would drink the good stuff and replace it with rotgut or homemade bathtub gin.
That was 100 years ago. Carrie Nation is dead. And if you can trust me, as your chef, to put raspberries in your vinaigrette, you can trust me to put raspberries in your vodka. But some Iowa House members don’t see it that way, and we’ll never get to know which ones.
Only one group formally opposed the bill: the beer distributors’ lobby. They contended that it amounted to a “crack” in Iowa’s sacred “Three Tier System,” which governs all alcohol sales, distribution and production in the state. The supposition being that the proposal would make bars — who are part of the retail tier in this system — into producers like breweries and distilleries (a separate tier). Not so, since as I said there would be no distillation or fermentation, nor any off-premise sales of the concoctions, but that’s what they thought.
To her credit, Rep. Vicki Lensing had crafted an amendment to allay those concerns and some others, but she was never granted to the opportunity to introduce the language, and not even she knows exactly why. The committee was convened by Rep. Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, who promptly dismissed all observers. An hour later, when observers were allowed back in, the infusion bill had been removed from the agenda, effectively killing it for the year.
They say there are two things you don’t want people to know how you make ’em: laws and sausages. Despite their loud advocacy for lifting restrictions on small businesses, too many representatives are protecting the status quo. I would name them but no one knows who they are.
This is not the end, mind you. We will bring the issue back up in the next session, and Iverson is not running for re-election this year, so there is hope that we may be able to at least get it out of committee. The only item to get out of that committee, by the way? A proposal to increase transparency government (but only local and county, not state). You can’t make this stuff up.