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Are you getting what you pay for at the bar?

March 9, 2020

Beer tap pulls at a bar

When you go to a bar or restaurant and order a drink, you probably don’t think about whether you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for. Nor should you. That’s what the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) of the Department of Public Safety is here for: Among other responsibilities, AGED inspects retail establishments that sell alcohol to make sure they’re compliant with the law and dealing honestly with their patrons.

An AGED inspector usually shows up unannounced so that they can observe how the business is run on a daily basis. They check for the obvious things first: making sure the proper paperwork is posted, for example. Retail establishments have to display a valid license, which shows that they are allowed to sell alcohol to the public; and a valid buyer’s card, which shows that they are allowed to buy alcohol from wholesalers. There’s also a warning poster detailing who the establishment is not allowed to sell to, the penalties for driving under the influence, and alcohol’s potential to cause birth defects.

Next, the inspector goes behind the bar to look at the liquor bottles and tap lines. They have to make sure that the name of the beer on the tap matches the name of the beer on the barrel the tap is connected to – in the past they’ve found people selling a cheaper beer but charging for a more expensive one, which is illegal. Patrons have to know what they’re getting.

Did you know there are numerous ways to detect the watering of alcohol? Inspectors have some relatively simple methods they use, as well as testing with commercial devices, to make sure the hard alcohol you’re paying for isn’t watered down. They also check the bottles for debris, such as bugs. And, like the beer taps and barrels, some establishments have been known to do what’s known as “refilling” – that is, put a cheaper product into the bottle of a higher-end product. One telltale sign of refilling is when the bottle is full but the label is worn out.

The last thing the AGED inspector looks for is that there are two years’ worth of invoices on site, that no beer wholesaler has extended credit to the establishment, and that the wholesaler itself is licensed. Then the inspector answers any questions of establishment owner or manager and lets them know they’ll be submitting a report for review and possible civil penalties, including any fines (the fines are capped at $2,000. The idea is not to put them out of business, but to get them to comply the law so they can stay in business). Ultimately, it’s up to the establishment’s owner to know the laws and ask any questions to clarify.

So next time you’re out having a drink, know that an AGED inspector has been there – and will be there again – making sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. That way you can just relax and have a good time.