Operation Swill

martiniA distiller once told me of a problem that comes up when a drinking establishment fills empty premium bottles with rail-quality spirits. Sure you could probably tell the difference between a Glenrothes ’78 and Dewar’s White Label drunk neat, but what about Grey Goose vs. Aristocrat in an Appletini?

Hence, as the [Newark] Star-Ledger reports,

More than 100 investigators raided 29 establishments—from East Rutherford to Matawan to Chesilhurst—Wednesday morning on suspicion of the practice, authorities announced. It was part of a year-long investigation called “Operation Swill.”

The establishments allegedly aimed to “fool the customer and increase their profits,” according to a statement by the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“The customer paid for the premium brand but was instead, unbeknownst to the customer, poured the non-premium brand,” the statement said.

It gets worse. Notes the Star-Ledger‘s Brent Johnson: “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.” The mislabeled brands include Finlandia, Smirnoff, Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s, Bacardi, Captain Morgan Spiced, Johnny Walker Black, Dewar’s, Jack Daniel’s Black Label, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Jose Cuervo Silver, Jose Cuervo Gold, and Patron Silver. (Alth0ugh it’s easier to disguise a vodka in a Cosmo, isn’t it awfully risky of the perpetrators to switch out the Black Label? Slate‘s Justin Peters offers tips on how to tell you’ve been had.)

The targets include independent establishments as well as chains like Ruby Tuesday’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. Friday’s issued a statement to the Star-Ledger saying, “TGI Fridays was just made aware of this issue and is working closely with the franchisee and owner of the cited locations to review and investigate these serious allegations. We have one of the most extensive bar and beverage programs in the industry, which sets a very high standard in the quality and service of our beverages.”

No doubt corporate will be in a state about this. In the meantime, I might just forgo that Pink Punk Cosmo though I will miss (according to the menu) having it “shaken and poured tableside over a fluff of cotton candy.”

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