Bar-made Infusions are illegal in Iowa. Lets change a dumb law.

I recall that back in 2010 I asked the bartender of a now-defunct establishment what went into a particular Manhattan that I’d ordered. Actually, I recall that it was marketed as a “Des Moines.” He pulled a bottle out from behind the bar and showed me that it was a custom-made vermouth. It made a nice improvement to the drink. Not long afterwards I was looking through a State of Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division publication where it very clearly stated that this bottle was unlawful. It is not illegal for individuals to make their own infusions, mind you, but in Iowa it is illegal for a licensee to “refill or reuse” liquor and wine bottles.

The reason for this pre-prohibition law was to protect consumers from being bilked by unscrupulous bars that might refill empty top-shelf bottles with bottom-shelf liquor. Of course, that type of activity still goes on with or without the law, but most consumers would jump at the chance to try some unique cocktails made with creative infusions. There isn’t any risk because the infusion is not being marketed as anything other than what it is. So, this is a law that needs to be changed. I’ve even made some of my own infusions so that I can try to duplicate some of the drinks that local bars are selling. They are great and I recommend that everyone try it.

Here is the way the ABD website puts it:

Refilling and reusing liquor and wine bottles is unlawful. Licensees may not:

•Refill a smaller “well” bottle from a larger bottle.
•Refill a bottle with a product other than that designated on the label.
•Refill a bottle bearing the Iowa identifying marker with a product imported from another state.
•Adulterate liquor or wine by the addition of any substance.
•Knowingly possess an original package that has been reused or adulterated.
Refilling and reusing liquor and wine bottles is a serious violation that may result in suspension or revocation of the license.

Here is what Iowa Code § 123.49(2) states:

2. A person or club holding a liquor control license or retail
wine or beer permit under this chapter, and the person’s or club’s
agents or employees, shall not do any of the following:

. . .
d. Keep on premises covered by a liquor control license any
alcoholic liquor in any container except the original package
purchased from the division, and except mixed drinks or cocktails
mixed on the premises for immediate consumption. This prohibition
does not apply to common carriers holding a class “D” liquor control
e. Reuse for packaging alcoholic liquor or wine any container
or receptacle used originally for packaging alcoholic liquor or wine;
or adulterate, by the addition of any substance, the contents or
remaining contents of an original package of an alcoholic liquor or
wine; or knowingly possess any original package which has been so
reused or adulterated.

What this means is that a bartender can infuse a drink for immediate consumption but that bartender cannot create the infusion, store it, and then dispense it. It takes days and even weeks to infuse a drink, so the end result is that he law essentially outlaws infusions that are not purchased as finished products from the Iowa ABD. A licensee that violates the law faces fines, suspension and revocation of the liquor license.

Devotay’s Kurt Michael Friese has started an initiative to change the law. His efforts have gotten some notice and he reportedly has a sponsor in the Iowa legislature to introduce a bill. California has recently abolished its similar law, so with some support perhaps we can get this obsolete law changed.

Iowa Code section 123.49
Iowa ABD website


I checked google and found that a few Iowa towns may have provisions that duplicate large sections of the Iowa Code. Even if the Iowa legislature changes the law to allow infusions, some cities may still need to update their city ordinances.

Iowa Falls: Chapter 120
Swisher, Iowa: Chapter 120
I also checked California’s recent legislation that legalized infusions. Unfortunately, their law is entirely different and the amendment used in California will not really work here in Iowa. In California, the laws defined a “rectifier” to be a person who “who colors, flavors, or
otherwise processes distilled spirits by distillation, blending, percolating, or other processes.” Rectification was apparently outlawed in California without a certain type of license, a license not usually held by a restaurant or bar. The law amended the definition of “rectifier” to exclude from the definition “any on-sale licensee that colors, flavors, or blends distilled spirits or wine products on the licensed premises for consumption on those premises.”

Second Update:

The Des Moines Register has a well-written article by William Petroski on the issue:

Iowa restaurants, bars look to change Prohibition-era liquor laws


One thought on “Bar-made Infusions are illegal in Iowa. Lets change a dumb law.

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