For 75 years sangria servers in Virginia were once unknowing outlaws. A Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agent who fined a surprised Old Town La Tasca $2,500 and forced the staff to dump over 40 liters of sangria down the drain two years ago made the laws presence known.
The Virginia ABC said the 1934 law prohibited the pre-mixture of distilled spirits with wine or beer but have been unable to account for the codes origination.
In response, Delegate Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) sponsored a bill to allow restaurant owners to pre-mix and sell pitchers of the popular drink Ebbins bill passed the state House and Senate last week, legalizing the pre-mixture of spirits with sangria.
Shana McKillop, managing partner of La Tasca in Old Town, said she was shocked when the agent cited the antiquated piece of legislation.McKillop asked the Virginia ABC appealed the violation, a class one misdemeanor, and attended hearings in Richmond to support Ebbins bill. La Tasca lost its appeal.
When Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s, the Federal government gave states the power to make individual liquor laws. This makes for some interesting state laws. In Texas, it is illegal to take more than three sips of beer at a time while standing. Citizens land behind bars for trying to get a moose drunk in Anchorage. It is a felony to send wine in Kentucky.
Sangria, which is usually a blend of wine, brandy, triple sec and cut fruit, is often pre-mixed to allow the flavors to blend. The pre-mixing made the drink especially illegal. Other wine or beer and spirit combination drinks, such as Bellinis, a drink famous in Ernest Hemingways The Sun Also Rises, made of peach schnapps and champagne; and sake bombs, made of rice wine and beer, are at risk.
Alexandria Delegate David Englin (D), who co-signed Del. Ebbins bill, said that a special sangria exception was carved out of the old law forbidding the mixture of wine or beer with spirits. He said they did not include mixtures such as champagne cocktails becaue a prohibitionist attitude of some legislators would have challenged anything that further expanded the serving of alcohol.
Were not opposed to champagne cocktails, Del. Englin said. It was just easier to pass.
“There’s a lot of room to move Virginia forward in the issues of how we regulate alcohol,” Del. Ebbin said. Weve has some oddities in the code and were changing them one by one. Another oddity combined in a larger alcohol reform bill includes the prohibition of sale of food with alcohol contents over .5%. This category of food includes tiramisu, some fondus and cherries jubilee. Del. Ebbin said the passage of a larger alcohol reform bill should not present a problem in the Senate.
Rustico encountered the food and alcohol bill last summer when an ABC agent confiscated some of their chefs latest creation, brew-pops, a creation of their chef made of low-alcohol Belgian beers spontaneously fermented with fruit, Nahem Simon, bartender at Rustico, said. After the ABC recommended that Rustico not sell the brew-pops, the restaurant took the dessert off the menu.
With all these forms of rum cake that are still produced, its interesting how the brew pops were such a threat, Simon said. We got a lot of press and I cant tell you how many people stopped by asking about it. It was the same thing as prohibition. They were so curious and wanted what they couldnt have. Maybe someday there will be a brew-pop speakeasy.
Last week, an ABC agent stopped by Rustico because they were checking restaurants for Sangria. Rustico served two kinds of sangria, one of which was over the legal limit. ABC gave Rustico a warning.
La Tasca, stuck with its fine for serving sangria, edited their recipe during the two-year hiatus, removing the brandy and triple sec, to the disappointment of their customers.
I love sangria, said Arlington resident Mike Scott. There are more dangerous legal drinks out there in Virginia that are more potent than sangria. Its a festive drink that has a lot of heritage to it. It is a shame that the Commonwealth of Virginia, the mother of Presidents, has made this traditional drink illegal.
Scott said he would have to go to the District for his sangria last week, because other Virginia restaurants learned of La Tascas violation and were forced to change their recipes as well.
Theres always been really high interest in sangria, McKillop said. It makes a huge part of our sales.
I think that its the most ridiculous law in the world, Carrie Smith, of Arlington, said. I think that if you can mix Red Bull and vodka then everything else would be OK.
I think that its silly that we regulate these things, Del. Englin said. Its silly that we tell restaurants they cant serve things that is normal for restaurants to serve.
Del. Englin said he would be glad to take up any other strange codes if a restaurant or bar owner encounters them.
Jason Asher, general manager of Rustico restaurant, does not think they will lose customers because of odd ABC regulations.
I dont think well lose customers because of stuff like that, Jason Asher, general manager of Rustico, said. He said that for traditional places, like La Tasca, where experience and authenticity are everything it makes a difference, but Rusticos sales do not rely on traditional drinks like sangria.
Its about business and satisfying customers, Del. Englin said. Were in competition with D.C. and Maryland. I want them to know that they can have as a high quality dining experience in Alexandria as in other places. I think they can have better experience.