Ice cream headache: Regulators put a chill on booze-infused flavors
By Janelle Nanos, Globe Staff
September 26, 2016
A sampling of the alcohol-infused ice cream brands that have been on sale at Daddy’s Dairy for the past year.
Fans of ice cream flavors like Salty Whisky, Guinness Cream, and Bourbon Vienna Finger — be warned. The marriage of two favorite vices may be on the rocks.
The sale of alcohol-infused ice cream has spiked in Massachusetts, with confectioners increasingly churning out batches of adult flavors. But these boozy scoops are now subject to their own Sundae Blue Laws.
A new advisory from the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission places restrictions on the sale and distribution of alcohol-infused ice cream flavors in the Commonwealth. Anyone who incorporates wine, beer, or spirits into their recipes must now file for a special exemption from the federal government, regardless of how much alcohol is used.
You could call it a buzzkill, a chilling effect, or perhaps a bit of both, but no matter how you scoop it, the purveyors of alcoholic ice cream flavors in Massachusetts are now on watch.
The rules apply to all ice cream makers who spike their pints with a bit of booze, from national distributors like Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers to the small-batch artisans who stock the shelves of Roche Bros. or Whole Foods. It also means that owners of ice cream parlors may now need to submit their recipes and get approval from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The alcohol content in these confections can vary, from almost none to a high of 5 percent alcohol by volume — roughly the same as in a typical beer — or more. All are required to register, no matter how much alcohol is used.
After a recipe is submitted, the agency will determine if the boozy desserts can be classified as a “nonbeverage product” in the eyes of the law, in order to gain approval for distribution. (he regulations don’t specify what might happen should the ice cream melt.)
The convergence of two indulgences has found several iterations in the past few years, from the BuzzBar chocolate-dipped novelty treats to the release last year of Ben & Jerry’s New Belgium Salted Caramel Brown-ie Ale flavor — the result of a creamery/brewery partnership that resulted in both beer-flavored ice cream and ice cream-flavored beer.
Officials from the ABCC, which is charged with regulating the sale of alcohol in the state, said that as sales of adult ice cream products have grown, they have felt inclined to weigh in.
“These advisories were prompted by multiple inquiries from local licensing boards and licensees wondering if they could lawfully sell alcohol-infused ice cream,” Kris Foster, the commission’s general counsel, said in an e-mail.
One exception: Restaurants that have liquor licences will not be subject to the new regulations, meaning that, for now, Kahlua-spiked mudslides and other “adult milkshakes” are safe.
John Minihan, the owner of the Daddy’s Dairy ice cream parlors in Brockton, Braintree, Stoughton, and Randolph, has been asking his patrons for their ID’s before selling them novelty pints of Cake Batter Vodka Martini, Tequila Mexican Hot Chocolate, and Maple Bacon Bourbon from Tipsy Scoop, a New York company with over 15 spiked ice cream flavors. He’s had them in his stores for the past year.
“We’ve never had a minor try to buy it,” he said. “People bring them home for a ladies night or a gathering. It’s something to talk about.”
But Minihan said he’s recently begun getting more questions about the pints from health inspectors who do their routine checks of his stores, and said he’s now pulled the Tipsy Scoop cartons from his freezers while he waits for the company to sort out its status with the federal agency. Representatives from Tipsy Scoop did not respond to a request for comment.
Minihan said he will continue to sell Mercer’s wine ice cream, a New York state brand that has been producing its Cherry Merlot and Peach White Zinfandel flavors since 2008. That’s because Mercer’s has already filed its paperwork with the federal agency.
“We’ve done all of our homework,” said Mercer’s owner, Ruth Mignerey, who has faced regulatory challenges in other states as she’s expanded the sale of her products. Her documents have been on the books for years, she said. “We have the written classification from[the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] that classifies us as a food product.” The ABCC confirmed Mercer’s status.
The advisory is likely to leave some ice cream shop owners with headaches worse than a brain freeze. Aaron Cohen, of Gracie’s Ice Cream shop in Somerville’s Union Square, sells Salty Whisky ice cream as one of his signature flavors. “We’re going to look into it to make sure we’re following all applicable laws,” he said.
Toscanini’s owner Gus Rancatore hadn’t heard of the new regulations when a reporter called to see if it might affect sales.
“We make a bunch of boozy flavors, like rum raisin and Guinness,” he said. “My understanding of my own situation is that we are allowed to have a small amount of alcohol on hand for cooking purposes, the same way an Italian restaurant can use wine to make chicken marsala.”
The ABCC has said that the use of a rum extract, which is often used in the rum raisin flavor, is not subject to the federal regulations. But it’s not yet clear if ice cream parlors must submit paperwork for every flavor that has a booze-related label to get it approved, regardless. Rancatore said he’d be investigating the next steps.
Minihan, of Daddy’s Dairy, believes that none of the ice cream he’s sold has been potent enough to get a customer drunk. “Customers aren’t sitting out front plowing down a pint of ice cream, they’re buying two or three or four pints for a group of friends,” he said. “The worst that could happen is that you’d really get sick.”
That’s sick with an upset stomach, not a hangover.