I was bemoaning the state of cachaça with fellow Weekling Bill Esparza last week as we sipped from a bootlegged two-liter Coke bottle of cachaça de alambique, straight from the still. Sure, we can get the run-of-the-mill stuff like Ypioca and 51, and on my peregrinations to New Jersey and Massachusetts I always stock up on good-but-commercial brands from Minas Gerais like Boazinha, Seleta, and Lua Cheia, but we can't get the good stuff, the stuff that lines buteco shelves from Belém to Porto Alegre, from Manaus to Recife, here.
Why not, you ask?
Because there are more than a thousand labels of cachaça in Brazil, and almost all of them come in 600 mL bottles, a format that is not allowed to be imported commercially into the United States. In order for liquor to come into the U.S., it has to be in an approved size based on metric conversions of Imperial measures, because that's how the taxation works.
See, the 375 mL split was originally a tenth of a gallon (378.5 mL); the 750 mL bottle we all know and love was originally a fifth (757 mL); 1 L bottles are close to a quarter of a gallon (946 mL); the giant 1.75 L vodka bottles we use to stock up for parties were originally half a gallon (1.892 L). If your liquor doesn't come in one of these completely arbitrary sizes, you can't import it for sale. It's unbelievably obtuse and it keeps some of the best liquor in the world out of this country.
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Jamieson Cobleigh of Ashland, Massachusetts. wants to change that. He loves his Scotch, and Scotch from Scotland comes in 700 mL bottles. He fancies a nice aged Port Ellen, except that Port Ellen isn't made in US-approved sizes, so it can't be imported commercially. So he did the very 2013 thing to do--he created a White House petition to have the Code of Federal Regulations amended to allow other size bottles to be imported.
It's a great idea. We are living in the future, where it's quite possible to determine excise tax and duty on a per-milliliter basis.
If you're tired of the government telling you how much liquor has to be in a bottle you want to buy, go to the White House website and tell them to enter the modern age and allow it all.