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Jun 10, 2011 09:50 AM

Boston Licensing Board - Whoops!

I hope this doesn't get moved to another board because it's a Boston-specific issue.

Did the Boston Licensing Board screw itself?

I'm no fan of the liquor laws in MA or in Boston because they are confusing, illogical, and help retain a system where small, independent operators will struggle. This decision hammers home the stupidity of the laws.

Hopefully places will now just opt for the much less expensive beer, wine, and cordials license and still provide real cocktails. With this decision, what's to stop a restaurant from serving liquor with small amounts of material infused in it. Maybe some rum with a bit of lime peel, hibiscus gin (even though gin is already an infusion), or even bourbon infused with a single grain of rice (yum!).

Maybe I am overreading this decision, but I think it's pretty good news for diners and small businesses, not so great news for the regulators. I'm not sure what precedential weight previous licensing board decisions have on future ones, but I suspect it is something. Hopefully the city doesn't realize their mistake and overreact in the wrong way.

Also, I'm not even sure they got it technically right. MA law says that a cordial must contain at least 2.5% sugar by weight, but the Cafe Meridian situation just mentions vodka infused with a spice, which would not fall into that definition, even though the licensing board just said it did. Perhaps the coverage of the board decision doesn't include the fact that it was vodka + anise + sugar.

Cafe Meridian
271 Meridian St, Boston, MA 02128

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  1. Sooo...basically, if I have a license to sell liqueurs, I just need to pre-mix my batch of LI iced teas before I put them into inventory.

    1. Cardial as defined by the state:

      "[M]anufactured or produced by mixing or redistilling neutral spirits, brandy, gin, or other distilled spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants or pure juices therefrom, or other natural flavoring materials, or with extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials and containing no less than two and one-half percent sugar by weight."

      Meridian's Lawyer "said an expert he consulted said the grammar of the sentence is such that the clause doesn't apply to the first part of the sentence."

      So how long until the law is rewritten?

      Could this just be a simple case of profiling? The now a defunct Savant Project had multiple jars of infused spirits on the bar completely exploiting the grey area. Then again they also proudly displayed Yuengling on the back bar.

      The Savant Project
      1625 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02120

      2 Replies
      1. re: Unfoodie

        Ha. That is very clever. Even if you have to meet the 2.5% sugar minimum, premixing cocktails might be ok.

        If the Commonwealth is going to take the time to rewrite this law, I hope they reconsider most of the liquor law regime. It would be nice to have a chance to lobby legislators on this, especially now during growth and budget concerns. Adjustments to the liquor laws might help us raise revenue while also lowering barriers to entry to restaurateurs.

        1. re: DoubleMan

          like a really big screwdriver or cape codder? that statute is laugh-out-loud funny.

          shocking more places don't do the same go-around, isn't it?

      2. A wonderful ruling unless you're in support of the stupid liquor laws that pervade this state.

        1. The thing that doesn't really make sense is: how did they get this so-called hard liquor? It's my understanding that a restaurant's liquor distributor knows what they can and can't sell to them under a particular license (so, if you have a cordial license, they wouldn't sell you straight vodka). If they sold it to them, in theory, it would be legal. If they bought it on their own, not so much.

          And yes, this entire thing is completely ridiculous.

          5 Replies
          1. re: purple bot

            One of the issues is that you can not purchase any type of alcoholic beverage and bring it on to a licensed premise. Therefore in theory you shouldn't be able to have the spirits and then convert them to cordials. Very grey area

            1. re: Winer

              I believe they are free to purchase any alcohol distributed in the state for cooking purposes; it's only violation of their license if they sell said alcohol for consumption - by creating cordials they are free to serve them. I wish more people in Boston had this type of entrepreneurship.

                1. re: Winer

                  Anyone have any sort of update as to when I can start getting wine shipped here?