Virginia Draws the Line At Sangria

Prohibition officially ended in the United States on Dec 5, 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.   Virginia responded the following year by establishing the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and legalizing the consumption of beverages with up to 3.2% alcohol content.  However, those rebel legislators would liberalize liquor laws only so much.   Fast forward 72 years.

In 2006, the Virginia ABC cited La Tasca, a Spanish restaurant in Alexandria, VA, for committing the egregious act of… serving sangria.  The scofflaws at La Tasca failed to comply with a 1934 Virginia law that banned the sale of mixing spirits with wine or beer.  What was the penalty for violating this law?   A Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 or up to 12 months in jail.   Read that last part again.  In the United States up until 2006, a bartender could legally be thrown in the slammer for a year for committing the heinous crime of mixing wine and brandy and serving to a thirsty customer.

The Washington City Paper and Washington Post both covered the details of the story.

The Virginia General Assembly held hearings in 2008 to discuss tweaking the Prohibition-era law.   Cooler heads prevailed and sangria would finally be legalized that year.   Problem solved.  Right?  Not exactly.   While the fruity wine-based punch would finally become available to patrons without threat of jail to employees, Virginia still held on tight to other mixed beverages.   Sangria would become the line that shall not be crossed.

Beer and champagne cocktails were still technically in violation of the law.   The exemption in 2008 was made explicit for sangria.  After all, the loyal subjects of Virginia should be grateful for such privileges.  It would have been quite entertaining to have witnessed these debates.  According to the Alexandria Times, “Alexandria Delegate David Englin (D), who co-signed Del. Ebbins bill [to legalize sangria],… said they did not include mixtures such as champagne cocktails because a prohibitionist attitude of some legislators would have challenged anything that further expanded the serving of alcohol.”

Those degenerate rabble-rousing champagne cocktail drinkers must be held in check.   However, a close reading of the Virginia law does make certain non-sangria allowances for mixed beverages that “combine beer or spirits, or both, with wine pursuant to a patron’s order.”   In other words, mixed drinks on demand are perfectly legal.  However, no employee or agent of a licensee shall “keep any alcoholic beverage other than in the bottle or container in which it was purchased by him” with some exceptions.   Basically, pre-mixed sangria is fine, but beware of serving any type of batched beer cocktail.

Sic semper tyrannis – the latin phrase meaning “thus always to tyrants” is the Virginia state motto dating back to 1776 symbolizing victory over tyranny.  Virginians can claim a small victory over tyranny sipping a cool sangria or sweet beer cocktail, as long as the latter doesn’t come served pre-made in a container.  You can’t get everything.  It took nearly a century just repealing prohibition on sangria.

For those in the Alexandria area, visit La Tasca and sample the fantastic sangria menu that can be found on their website and on barzz.   After all, their employees narrowly escaped a prison sentence to serve you.

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