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Sign petition, support alcoholic innovation

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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A new Iowa City initiative seeks to adjust and amend a long-standing alcoholic-beverages law in the state (and the ears perk up).

No, this particular initiative has nothing to do with the 21-ordinance — but for local bars and spirit-aficionados, the repeal of Iowa Code 123.49 would open up a whole new world of alcohol-based artistry. Such freedom would provide a much-needed flair in a downtown that hasn't seemed the same since the 21-ordinance went into effect June 1, 2010.

Raising the Bar — a petition that has gained some serious momentum in the past couple of weeks — aims to revise Iowa Code 123.49, which stipulates that a given liquor must be stored in the container in which it was purchased, except, of course, when it comes to cocktails and mixed drinks intended to be consumed immediately thereafter.

Local restaurant owner and nationally renowned culinary expert Kurt Michael Friese, who has composed the petition and spearheaded the initiative, suggests that such legislation does more harm than good, especially when it comes to local "mixologists" like himself. The code prevents bar and restaurant owners — such as Friese — from altering liquors and creating signature bitters, which would allow for a wide range of palatable possibilities.

"For the business owners, it gives us an opportunity to stand out and to be more creative, which is what most in my industry would like to be," said Friese, who owns and operates Devotay, 117 N. Linn St. "For our guests, it's an opportunity to try something new … The goal is to reduce mass consumption and savor the artistry."

Iowa Code 123.49, which went into effect before Prohibition, was intended to prevent the rebottling and reuse of bottles as containers for spirits other than those which they originally contained. To give a hypothetical example, the code prohibits bars from filling Patron Tequila bottles with Jose Cuervo and selling it under the name on the bottle. Today, a revision of this law seems merited, because the initial concern of the code is now addressed by a much more complex system of trademark laws.

Take, for instance, the 2006 incident in which Red Bull North America filed a lawsuit against the Sports Column, 12 S. Dubuque St., for allegedly serving an imitation energy drink when Red Bull was explicitly ordered. While the incident did not involve alcoholic spirits, it did involve a similar infraction concerning the mixing of cocktails and certainly brings to light a relatable example to the issue at hand.

Iowa City proponents of Friese's initiative could look to the success story of San Francisco-based cocktail-consulting company the Bon Vivants, an establishment that helped organize a similar petition against a nearly identical Prohibition-era state law. The initiative and its founders cited similar motives to those of Iowa City's movement and employed a similar logic: Dated state legislation should not prohibit establishments from pursuing creativity and innovation, especially when such endeavors are not acting in violation of trademark laws.

In September of this year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a piece of legislation to repeal the ban on infusing bottled alcohol with new flavors. The success of similarly motivated bar owners and mixologists in the Bay Area serve as a testament to the legitimacy of the Raising the Bar initiative, and the case will undoubtedly be observed as a legislative precedent to the efforts and ultimate intentions of Iowa City restaurateurs such as Friese.

The revision of this particular code isn't just fair, it's necessary and it's intelligent. Requiring establishments to adhere to a law that is rooted in Prohibitionist logic is absurd — an absurdity that is only heightened by the existence of other, more applicable trademark laws addressing the same offenses. Subsequently, it's important to not only consider the lack of legal justification for the code but also the crippling implications of a law that stifles innovation and snuffs out creativity.

Especially in times of economic stagnation, it's important for state and local governments to back the innovative endeavors of business owners and artisans alike, and as judicially enabled political bodies, they have both the capability and the responsibility to do so.

"I think getting this provision changed leads to a lot of improvements," said Friese. "It could lead to new jobs and help to make each place unique — no one wants to go to a place and find the same thing they find at home.

"I consider these drinks to be food. I wouldn't want to be told I could only use certain ingredients. I want to change and manipulate."

There is no logical reason for Friese and others to be prohibited from innovating the industry — just an illogical law.

Go online, sign the petition, and help repeal the Iowa Code 123.49.


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