While we pause this weekend to recognize the Honored Dead, many of you may be considering heading out with friends to hoist a few cold ones in their memory. But if you’re heading to your favorite watering hole and plan on having some mixed drinks or a shot of hard liquor, you may want to exercise a bit more caution than usual. One story out of New Jersey shows precisely how far our mighty nation has fallen in these dark times. People are pushing bogus booze at mainstream bars and restaurants, and your scotch might actually be rubbing alcohol.
In one case, a New Jersey bar allegedly mixed rubbing alcohol with caramel food coloring and served it as scotch.
In another, a bar is accused of pouring dirty water into an empty bottle and passing it off as liquor.
Those are some of the details state officials released today after a year-long investigation called “Operation Swill,” which culminated Wednesday when more than 100 investigators raided 29 bars and restaurants across New Jersey on the suspicion they had been serving cheap alcohol disguised as premium brands.
“What these 29 establishments have allegedly done threatens the integrity of the alcoholic beverage industry as a whole,” state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said at a news conference today in Trenton. “This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits, and it is a slap in the face of the consumer. The consumer should have the peace of mind to know that when they pay for something, they get exactly what they paid for, no exceptions.”
A lot of them were just swapping out cheap, bottom shelf hooch and refilling top shelf bottles with it. But the ones going for rubbing alcohol are really tempting fate. Lest you think this is just a handful of shady dive owners in one locale, it’s not. The full list of 29 bars includes 13 – nearly half – which are TGIFridays. This isn’t just a couple of drink cheating scofflaws… and the problem is almost undoubtedly not just in Jersey. Peter Weber at The Week explains.
But even if you don’t live in the Garden State, this should worry you, says avowed tippler Justin Peters at Slate. “If the bait-and-switch is happening in New Jersey, it’s happening elsewhere, too, quite possibly in the low joints where I spend an alarming amount of my time.” Peters offers some advice for anyone worried about being duped by the bartender. Some of it is common sense:
Use your senses. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between top-shelf liquors and marginal brands… But other times there’s a real difference, and you can usually tell by using your senses. For example, taste. Ask the bartender for a sip of that Dewar’s before he dilutes it with soda. It if tastes unnaturally harsh, it might be a fake. Other senses can come in handy, too. Do the colors look weird? Does it smell like paint thinner? [Slate]
Other tips are specific to this investigation — like avoid TGI Fridays.
I’ve had suspicions about this myself in the past, particularly when ordering Jack Daniels. There are some lower shelf brands which aren’t terribly far off if you’re not paying attention, and I’ve suspected the switch-out a couple of times. It’s just disheartening, I tell you. I mean, I can understand if the IRS is targeting particular Americans or the President is claiming to be so out of the loop that he finds out about his scandals from CNN. But that’s just government. We expect them to be either corrupt or stupid. This is the liquor distribution infrastructure of the nation we’re talking about. If you’ve lost that, what is there left?