Last Call

The Tax Man Collects New Downtown Nashville Tax of 25 Cents on Every $100

By - July 17, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

We have found that many downtown Nashville businesses have been surprised by a relatively new tax levied for marketing Music City Center, Nashville’s $623 million dollar convention center.  The tax requires businesses in downtown Nashville to pay a fee of .25% on most sales.

The tax is collected by the Department of Revenue along with sales taxes.

The tax is levied on all sales, except the following:

  1. Professional services;
  2. Lodging provided to transients;
  3. Tickets to sporting events or other live ticketed events;
  4. Alcoholic beverages which are subject to the liquor by the drink tax in addition to sales tax;
  5. Newspapers and other publications; and
  6. Overnight and long-term parking.

In an odd quirk, beer is taxed, but not wine and spirits.  The new tax recognizes that liquor and hotel taxes are already high and does not increase their taxes.

Luke Bryan captures the mood in an early single:

My stereo cranked up
I can’t find my truck
How’d I get home from the club
Ain’t got a clue what went down
So I started calling around

The area subject to the new tax is the Downtown CBID and includes all properties within that area of the city bounded and generally described as follows:

Bounded on the east from Charlotte Avenue to Woodland Street, 1st Avenue North; from Woodland Street to Peabody Street, the Cumberland River. The southerly boundary is from the Cumberland River to Rutledge Street, the center line of Peabody; from Rutledge Street to Lafayette Street, the south property line of all parcels facing on the south side of Peabody Street; from the center line of Lafayette to the center point of the intersection of Peabody, Lafayette and 7th Avenue South; between 7th Avenue South and 8th Avenue South, the center line of Lea Avenue; from Lea Avenue at 8th Avenue South, southwardly along center line of 8th Avenue South to the northern edge of the right-of-way of the CSX Railroad; northward to the western edge of parcel #093-09-0-320. The westerly boundary is between Charlotte and Union, the center line of 6th Avenue North; between Union and Broadway, the center line of James Robertson Parkway and 9th Avenue North; from Broadway to the first parcel south of Demonbreun along the western property line of parcels #093-09-0-326, #093-09-0-327 and #093-09-0-331. The northerly boundary begins from Broadway at the western property line of parcel #093-09-0-326, the center line of Broadway to 10th Avenue North; from 10th Avenue North to 9th Avenue North, the northern property line of all parcels facing on the north side of Broadway; from the intersection of Union and James Robertson Parkway, proceeding east to 6th Avenue North; from 6th Avenue North to 3rd Avenue North, the northern boundary is Charlotte Avenue; from 3rd Avenue North to the Cumberland River, the northern boundary is James Robertson Parkway.

How Restaurants and Bars Can Avoid a Tennessee ABC Citation for Infusing

By - July 14, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Anyone following liquor-by-the-drink laws in Tennessee is familiar with the controversy over infusions.  We blogged about the infusion law here.

One key provision of the infusion law was that pre-mixed products were not treated as infusions.  The law specifies that infusions are “not intended for immediate consumption.”

In other words, if a restaurant or bar makes a concoction that has to steep for a while to be ready to serve, it constitutes an infusion and is subject to the infusion law.  A pre-mixed cocktail like bloody marys or sangria that is ready to consume once it is prepared is not an infusion.

Problem is, out in the field, ABC agents have no idea what is inside an unmarked jug of hooch.  Although the container could contain a pre-mixed cocktail, the agent cannot tell if the elixir is an illegal infusion or a lawful pre-mix.

We recommend that folks attach a simple label to pre-mixed cocktails to help Tennessee ABC agents and to avoid unnecessary citations.  Although the law does not require labeling pre-mixed cocktails, a very simple label with the name of the cocktail is strongly advised.  Best practices suggest that the label should also contain the expiration date of the pre-mix.

This can be as simple as masking tape and a sharpie.

Steve Miller Band’s comic tune “The Joker” comes to mind for absolutely no reason.

You’re the cutest thing
That I ever did see
I really love your peaches
Want to shake your tree
Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey all the time
Ooo-eee baby, I’ll sure show you a good time

Why is My Tennessee Liquor Store Closed on the 4th of July and Other Holidays?

By - July 05, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Tennessee liquor laws often make no sense to consumers.  Why can’t I buy wine in a grocery store?  Why can’t I buy wine and spirits on Sundays at a liquor store, but I can buy a glass of wine or mixed drink at a restaurant or bar?

The short answer is politics.

For decades, Tennessee law limited ownership of retail liquor stores to single store mom and pop owners.  Albeit imperfect, the one store retail liquor law established a legal foundation for small business owners to be the only source for purchasing wine and spirits in Tennessee.

In a time-honored Tennessee legislative tradition, Tennessee liquor store owners paid enough money to hire a powerful lobbyists to protect their interests.

For a mom and pop store, being able to close on holidays is a major perk.  By law, liquor stores cannot open on the following holidays:

New Years
Fourth of July
Labor Day

With state law prohibiting competitors from opening, mom and pops can comfortably take the day off.

For a liquor store owner, it is a nice fringe benefit.  For consumers, it makes absolutely no sense.

Kim Wilde’s underground 1980’s single “Kid’s in America” comes to mind:

Outside Suburbia’s sprawling everywhere

I don’t want to go baby

New York to East California

There’s a new wave coming I warn you

We’re the kids in America

Drinking Laws in Memphis: Tell Me More

By - July 01, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

According to our friends at Google, one of the most popular questions in Tennessee is about drinking laws in Memphis.

Memphis is near the top of our list for unusual liquor licensing laws.

In general, Tennessee liquor laws require that a restaurant, hotel or bar has to have a liquor license from the state and a beer permit from the city.  The state licensees wine and spirits and the city licenses beer.

In Memphis, the beer board is known as the Memphis Alcohol Commission.  Anyone that has obtained a beer permit in Memphis knows about sign posting, petitions and other quirks of licensing in Memphis.  As with many Tennessee cities and counties, the beer permitting process in Memphis is an exercise in red tape.

Don’t get us wrong. Memphis staff members Yolanda Fullilove, Aubrey Howard and Roane Waring are some of our favorite Tennessee licensing officials.

Memphis features the only area in Tennessee where open container laws do not apply.  Within the Beale Street historic district, patrons can carry an open container on public streets and between bars.  No special license is needed – the bar or restaurant just needs to be located in the historic district.

The special Beale Street law also authorizes the sale of alcohol after the typical 3 am last call.  State law allows Memphis to set last call on Beale Street, but currently, Beale Street closes at 3 am.

Blues pioneer WC Handy inked an appropriate tune:

I’ve seen the lights of gay Broadway,
Old Market Street down by the Frisco Bay,
I’ve strolled the Prado, I’ve gambled on the Bourse;
The seven wonders of the world I’ve seen,
And many are the places I have been,
Take my advice, folks, and see Beale Street first!


Tennessee Tax Man Releases New Form for Restaurants, Bars and other On-Premise License Holders

By - June 25, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The Tennessee Department of Revenue announced a new price schedule as part of an effort to modernize its forms and tax reporting.  All liquor-by-the-drink license holders have to file a price schedule.

Unbeknownst to most, the price schedule is critical evidence in a tax audit.  Incorrect pour amounts or prices can lead to massive tax assessments.  We have seen assessments of over $100,000 for an innocent error in the amount of each pour, for example.

An explanation of the new price schedule is here. 

The new price schedule is here.

Cheap Trick penned a classic about taxes:

You work hard, you make money
There ain’t no one in this world who can stop you
You work hard, you went hungry
Now, the taxman is out to get you

We encourage folks to make sure that price schedules are accurate and updated regularly.

Robotic Bartender Takes Center Stage at NCSLA

By - June 19, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Hailed as a “robotic bartending machine that can prepare your favorite drink in seconds,” Monsieur was a magnet for curious liquor industry insiders at the 2015 NCSLA annual conference.  Monsieur can mix up to 30 different drinks from alcohol and mixers stored inside the machine.  Monsieur offers security software to monitor the number of drinks consumed by each patron, for example.

Monsieur describes the machine as being easy to use:

“Order a drink in 3 easy steps.

1. Place a glass in the cup compartment.

2. Scroll through the on-screen cocktail menu.

3. Tap the beverage of your choice to place your order.”

1980’s Human League synth-pop star Philip Oakey and Italian composer and producer Giorgio Moroder get it:

We’ll always be together
However far it seems
(Love never ends)
We’ll always be together
Together in electric dreams

Looking beyond the wow factor of a machine that can mix cocktails, we question whether Monsieur will appeal to a broad market.  Inventory in the machine is paltry for high volume applications.  Although admirable for a trail-blazing cocktail machine, drink selections are too limited to replace a traditional bartender.  The initial zing of the machine may attract technophiles, but we wonder if Monsieur is destined to be an expensive pet rock or lava lamp – an unsustainable fad.

Monsieur may be a good fit for bars at limited service hotels that lack sufficient traffic to justify paying for a bartender.  If inventory quantities are increased, Monsieur may also be useful for preparing simple drinks at high volume chain restaurants – allowing servers to make popular cocktails at drink stands and freeing up bartender time for more creative offerings.

We have photos that tell the story.

LaVonn Berry with his baby
LaVonn Berry with his baby













Order Screen
Order Screen













The Inner Workings
The Inner Workings


















The product is expected to launch later this year.

Learn more about Monsieur.


New Cutting Edge Alcoholic Beverage Cocktail Garnish Featured at 2015 NCSLA Conference

By - June 17, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Beverage innovator Steven Hollenkamp unveiled Cocktail Caviar at the 2015 annual meeting of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators.  We found the idea quite unique, with the potential to become a successful staple among cocktail enthusiasts and creative chefs.


Cocktail Caviar
Cocktail Caviar


By featuring the new product at NCSLA, Hollenkamp may have deflected potentially false negative protests about his product – directly to an audience of regulators that might field complaints about what could be perfidiously called an alcoholic beverage bomb destined for abuse by binge drinkers.

Hollenkamp described Cocktail Caviar as a very small 26 proof orb, about 3/8 in diameter based on our visual observation.  It sank to the bottom of cocktails and glasses of wine and did not dissolve.

We found the product to be a small burst of flavor when added to a cocktail or sampled off a spoon.  With an alcoholic content equivalent to wine, the vodka-based product produced a slightly spirituous jolt that was quickly overwhelmed by natural tasting flavors.

Cocktail Clavier will not be popular among binge drinkers, in our humble opinion.  We see it being a niche product, popular among craft cocktail bartenders looking to add color and a flavorful surprise to their concoctions.  We also see creative pastry chefs using Cocktail Caviar to add color and small bursts of flavor to gourmet desserts.

For no particular reason, makes us think of the Def Leopard classic “Pour Some Sugar on Me”

Pour some sugar on me
Ooh in the name of love
Pour some sugar on me
C’mon fire me up

Hollenkamp hopes to release Cocktail Caviar later this year in select markets.  A little more about the product is here.

Tennessee Liquor Laws Not Friendly to International Tourists at 2015 CMA Fest

By - June 11, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Fan Fair is here.  Nashvillians are decidedly divided about the influx of nearly 100,00 country music fans for the annual CMA Fest, previously known for years as Fan Fair.

Many locals hate it; we love it.  Nearly everyone loathes the traffic.

Country music is popular overseas and CMA Fest is attracting a fair share of international fans.  Herein lies the collision of Tennessee liquor laws and Nashville’s largest tourist event.

Although state law does not require mandatory carding for the sale of beer, wine and spirits at restaurants, bars and venues in Tennessee, purveyors of alcohol are strictly liable for sales to minors and violators face harsh sanctions. The Tennessee ABC has intensified compliance checks for sales to minors and license holders have seen a sizable uptick in citations.

We think it is safe to say that the industry is justifiably concerned about the impact of ABC stings.

For a tourist mecca like Nashville to thrive, folks must be friendly to tourists.  Imagine being an Irish music fan at one of our favorite watering holes, Robert’s Western World on lower Broad.  You order a PBR in a can.  The bartender asks for an ID.  Your passport is at your hotel, where it should be, so you whip out your Irish driver’s license, which looks a lot like this:

The bar is mobbed, the bartender gets fired and criminally charged for selling to a minor, so the bartender says sorry, I cannot serve you.  Not exactly a positive Nashville experience for an Irelander.

We applaud Nashville Convention & Visitors chief Butch Spyridon for publicly asking folks to respect our international travellers with unfamiliar IDs.

We will never forget being stopped in college by a French army officer in Paris who asked for ID and all we had was our lowly Tennessee driver’s license.  Facing an unfriendly serviceman in uniform with a large rifle, it totally sucked to hear that the ID was not acceptable and that we needed to show a passport, which of course, was safely stored at our hotel.

Calls to mind Simon and Garfunkel’s hit America:

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner’s pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

Mr. Spyridon’s e-mail is below:

Required identification for purchase of alcoholic beverages. Each year, I get complaints from international visitors regarding their government issued ID’s being declined as a valid means to purchase alcohol in some area restaurants and bars. Some have reported that local businesses state that passports are the only accepted form of ID for international visitors attempting to purchase alcohol. I requested clarity of the law and acceptable forms of identification from Keith Bell, executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. You will note from his email copied below that there is no state law requiring establishments to ID patrons. Additionally, if you elect to ID, any government issued ID (including from a foreign government) is acceptable for the purpose of identifying someone’s age to purchase alcohol. We do not want to encourage our visitors to carry their passports with them while they’re out enjoying our city for safety reasons. Our international visitation rate is increasing monthly, and particularly this week, we have visitors from over 23 countries visiting Nashville. I respectfully ask that you please consider your policies for acceptable forms of identification from our international visitors, and if need, update them to allow for more easy of purchase for our guests. If you have any questions or comments regarding this issue, please contact me at [email protected]. Thank you in advance for all you do for our visitors. From: Keith Bell [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 10:29 AM
To: Butch Spyridon
Cc: Ginna Winfree; Joshua Stepp; Melvin Brown; Juan Gomez; Terry S. Hill; Bond Tubbs; James Richardson
Subject: RE: Server permit A validly issued foreign government’s driver’s license or a validly issued foreign government’s passport is, for TABC purposes, considered a validly issued government identification for the person for whom it is issued and may be used for identification purposes in the purchase of alcoholic beverages within the State of Tennessee. There is no TN law or TABC rule requiring a restaurant to id at all. There is the criminal penalty if they serve someone under 21 years. However, many, if not all, of the finer restaurants have a company policy of carding everyone and not serving unless a valid government id is provided. Unfortunately, most restaurants tell customers they are required by law or the TABC and it’s not the case. Some other states have a mandatory carding in restaurants and if you go to a restaurant that has a national presences the company puts in place one uniform policy for all locations and requires carding.

E. Keith Bell
Attorney at Law
Executive Director
Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission
Davy Crockett Tower
500 James Robertson Pkwy, 3rd Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
(615) 741-7620

New Rules for Tennessee Retail Liquor Stores

By - June 10, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The changes from passage of Wine in Groceries legislation in Tennessee, which we affectionately call WIGS,  are epic.  We predict that the unintended consequences of WIGS will dwarf the changes folks planned for when WIGS was made law.

We learned of one such unexpected result today when we were forwarded a copy of the attached letter here.

Unlike convenience stores, gas stations and groceries, before WIGS, retail package stores in Tennessee were not required to comply with health and food safety codes imposed by local health departments and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.  The sale of sealed containers of non-perishable wine and spirits does not present many health hazards.

With the introduction of potentially perishable products like cheese in liquor stores, we see Agriculture oversight as reasonable, if not predictable.

However, this means more governance for what is already a heavily regulated industry.  Tennessee liquor store owners are going to have to learn new sets of rules and train staff on required procedures.  Owners will have to file applications, pay fees and be inspected for the new requirements.

We expect local heath departments to also look at regulating liquor stores.  Based on our experience, pouring samples of wine and spirits, for example, falls within the purview of the health department.  So does serving even the most basic food items, like crackers to cleanse pallets between tastings.  Health will probably look at dishwashers for glassware, hand sinks for servers and other procedures that many retail liquor store owners have not even considered.

Store owners may be singing the classic Beatles tune:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

George Dickel Quietly Makes History with First Woman Master Distiller

By - June 08, 2015 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The art of distilling whiskey in Tennessee is a decidedly masculine job.  Master distiller is a coveted position – the pinnacle of the profession.

We applaud Diageo for naming Allisa Henley master distiller of one of Tennessee’s most-storied distilleries, George Dickel.  We are pretty sure that Allisa is the first woman to hold the title of master distiller in Tennessee.  Allisa is definitely the first woman to lead a distillery in the Volunteer State post-prohibition.

Allisa Henley - Portrait

Aretha Franklin’s anthem Respect comes to mind:

What you want
(Ooh) Baby, I got
(Ooh) What you need
(Ooh) Do you know I’ve got it
(Ooh) All I’m askin’
(Ooh) Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home
(Just a little bit) mister (just a little bit)