Originally created 01/22/06

Pouring liquor no longer requires mini measures



South Carolina ushered in the new year by tossing out an old law that required bars and restaurants to serve mixed drinks made exclusively from 1.7-ounce minibottles.

And some people in the hospitality industry think the change is long overdue.

"It's going to finally put some morality into this operation," said Bob Johnson, a national beverage management consultant who lives in San Diego and Clearwater, S.C.

At a Jan. 15 seminar in Columbia for the South Carolina hospitality industry, the 45-year veteran of the bar business said the new regulations will keep bartenders from over-serving their customers.

Previously, he said, South Carolina bartenders had to use an entire minibottle in a mixed drink. Now, however, they can pour 1.25 ounces per drink from a liter bottle or use just half of a minibottle.

"Across the country, most people pour an ounce per drink," Mr. Johnson said.

The new regulations will allow bartenders to "distribute the product with more responsibility," he said, and they will curb drunk driving.

Mr. Johnson also said the law will save money and lives.

Businesses that pay as much as $25 for 20 minibottles can purchase the same amount of liquor in liter bottles for $16 or $17, he said.

Sam Erb, the owner of West Side Bowery in Aiken and the Hospitality Association of South Carolina president, said it will be several months before he can gauge the profitability of the new system. His establishment, which is phasing liter bottles into its inventory, started using them Jan. 12.

"It'll take us a couple days to get used to it, but it's working for us right now," he said.

Mr. Johnson said customers will benefit, too.

"South Carolina will now experience cocktail recipes being made correctly," he said. "There are three or four thousand drinks that South Carolina doesn't know about that they're about to find out about."

To perfect the ratio of alcohol to mixers in a cocktail, bartenders can use a variety of measuring devices ranging from shot glasses to jiggers to electronic pouring systems that sell for $30,000 to $40,000 apiece.

Robby Hagen, a West Side Bowery bartender, said their big bottles are equipped with spouts to measure the exact amount of liquor that goes into each drink.

"We get to make a wider variety of drinks," he said. "Other than that, it's pretty much the same thing."

However, Sandy Strick, an associate professor in the University of South Carolina's School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, said the state's hospitality industry has a lot to learn.

Employees must develop skills ranging from mixing multi-liquor drinks to learning new inventory control techniques, she said.

Mr. Erb, who is using a liquor bottle scale to monitor his inventory, said this adjustment has been the only drawback so far.

Some of South Carolina's bar and restaurant owners have been unwilling to tinker with their systems just yet, Mr. Johnson said

"A lot of operators have decided to stay with the minibottles," he said. "They have an excellent inventory control system with the minibottles, and they're reluctant to make the switch."

Inventory control has become a guessing game for distributors, whose customers are ordering minibottles, large bottles or both.

"We just kind of have to get out a crystal ball every week and guess what people are going to do," said Missie Boisvert, the owner of Palmetto Package Shop, which supplies about 40 bars and restaurants in Aiken County.

In addition, she said, not everyone is saving money because of the new law. Distributors have raised their rates for big bottles and passed the increases along to consumers, she said.

"The worst thing is to have to raise the prices on the shelf to cover this," Ms. Boisvert said.

New costs - or a lack thereof - did not escape the attention of at least one West Side Bowery bar patron last week.

Even though a single-liquor drink poured from a big bottle has a lower alcohol content than a drink mixed with a minibottle, the price is the same, said Creighton Hentz, of Aiken.

However, the use of large bottles will bring down the cost of multi-alcohol drinks, Mr. Erb said.

Mr. Hentz and another West Side Bowery customer, Paul Larkin, of Augusta, said they could tell the difference between minibottle and liter bottle drinks.

"It seems like the drinks are stronger when you've got the minibottles. It doesn't taste as strong as it usually does," said Mr. Larkin, after taking a sip of his Seven and Seven.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.

Beverage management consultant Bob Johnson said the change puts "morality" into the drink business.

Mini no more
South Carolina's new minibottle law, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows bars and restaurants to serve alcohol for on-premises consumption from minibottles, large bottles or both.