Santa Ana’s Blinking Owl Distillery recently announced it’s getting a little taste of Prohibition thanks to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Because of an odd interpretation of a law pertaining to serving private parties, the distillery’s tasting room has been shut down for 25 days.
According to a statement on the Blinking Owl website, an ABC agent called ahead to make a private reservation for two. Per state law, each person at a production distillery tasting room is allowed 1.5 ounces of alcohol per day unless they’re part of a private party that has been booked ahead of time. The undercover agents were served two cocktails each, but they were seated among non-private-party guests, according to the statement. The agents saw this as a violation of the law, and because of prior related violations, ABC closed down a private business that was acting in good faith as it continued to adjust its practices.
I’ve visited more than 20 distilleries throughout the state of California, and I’ve found that interpretation of the law is inconsistent and each business employs different ways to service its customers. Distillery laws are written in such a way that companies tend to follow their local ABC’s interpretation rather than the letter of the law. For example, if you visit a distillery in San Francisco, San Diego or Paso Robles, you’ll likely be told you need to be a private member, have an appointment for a tour, or have completed an educational phone app in order to buy direct. But why?
In all my time writing about drinks, I’ve seen a large beer distributor get nailed with more than 20 counts of illegal unfair business practices that basically limit the public’s beverage choice at restaurants and stores, yet only pay a measly $10,000 fine. With Blinking Owl, two ABC agents getting an extra drink among other customers is means for shutting down the most lucrative part of a small business. Welcome to Bizarro 2019.
Blinking Owl will reopen Dec. 8. Be sure to stop in and do some gift shopping!
Blinking Owl Distillery, 802 E. Washington Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 852-3947; blinkingowldistillery.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!