Bacon-infused whiskey and basil-infused vodka - and any other infused spirit - are acquired tastes, but the people who love drinks made with those funky liquors at Downtown Boise bars are out of luck unless they figure out a way to change Idaho law.
A newly bolstered staff of Idaho State Police officers in the Alcohol Beverage Control Unit noticed the infused liquor Downtown during some unrelated inspections last weekend and seized them from a handful of bars, including the Red Feather Lounge, said Lt. Russ Wheatley.
Red Feather Co-Owner Kevin Kelpe said he understands that a strict interpretation of Idaho law indicates that such liquor is illegal. What he questions is why enforcement is coming now, when bar staff has been infusing alcohol with flavors for a decade.
"I guess my question is, how is this benefiting anyone?" Kelpe said. "We don't feel angry about it ... but it is strange."
Kelpe says most of the drinks made with infused liquor can be mixed the traditional way, which takes more time and makes more of a mess.
For instance, the Red Feather's popular Fuzzy Leopard used to have basil-infused vodka as a main ingredient. Being able to age the vodka with basil leaves imparted the flavors, and allowed Red Feather to pull the leaves out before mixing the drink. Now they smash up a basil leaf in some syrup to achieve the same flavor. There's no such work-around for bacon whiskey, Kelpe said.
Liquor infusion may be on the way out after spiking in popularity in the past decade, Kelpe said, but quite a few regular customers aren't thrilled about the sudden ban. He said customers who don't like losing choices can express those concerns to legislators, who would be able to change Idaho code.
Dozens of bottles were seized, Wheatley said, because infusing is an obvious violation of Idaho code.
The law is written so consumers know exactly what liquor they are buying because it comes from the bottle to the glass, Wheatley said
"From our perspective, (bars) have to sell liquor by the drink. You can't take it out of a bottle, replace it and then sell it again. That is illegal," he said. "This is really a consumer protection issue. We don't know what people are putting in those bottles. There is a reason the rules are written the way they are."
An example Wheatley cited: A bar employee could pour a lower quality vodka in an empty bottle and pass it off as a different product. "Or what if something is put into (liquor) that makes people sick?" he asked.
INCREASED ENFORCEMENT STAFF
Wheatley took over as head of the ABC unit from Lt. Bob Clements, who retired last week.
After years of just two employees, the ABC unit expanded in 2012 to 10 officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant with a budget infusion from legislators. Wheatley said bar owners and the public should expect stricter enforcement of Idaho Code statewide now that the ISP has more officers.
"It was impossible to stay on top of these things with two employees," Wheatley said. "What we have here is an industry that hasn't been looked at very closely for the better part of 10 years."
Wheatley said none of the Downtown restaurants were given citations for the infused liquors, he said, describing the seizures as an educational action. If a restaurant continues to infuse liquor, he said, penalties could result.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr