Saloon charged with refilling whiskey bottle WEST COUNTY .. Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

August 31, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Say you own a bar and you're stuck with a bottle of booze that is nearly empty. To save space on the shelf, you pour what's left into another bottle of the same brand.

Seems like a logical way to condense a burgeoning stock. But it's against the law.

In two weeks, a Gambrills saloon will have to answer just such a charge in front of the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board.

The complaint says an employee of Crazy Otto's Sports Saloon poured some Johnny Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whiskey into another Johnny Walker Scotch Whiskey bottle. The owner could lose his liquor license.

Combining identical brands of whiskey in the same bottle may not seem like much of a crime. Still, said county liquor board Chairman Tom Riggin, the law's the law. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Sept. 14.

MA The bar's lawyer, Martin A. Hertz, won't comment on the case.

"I'll let the liquor board make a decision," he said Friday.

William O. Maydag, the president of Otto Enterprises Inc., which owns the bar in the 1300 block of Defense Highway, could not be reached for comment.

The saloon was cited for the same infraction in 1986 and fined $700 -- $50 for each of the 14 bottles that agents found had been refilled, according to liquor board records.

In the latest case, the investigator's report on file with the liquor board says the state comptroller's office received a complaint about Crazy Otto's on Jan. 11.

Agent Donald E. O'Shea Jr., with the investigator's service's division of the comptroller's office, inspected the saloon Jan. 18.

He said in a report that he found one bottle of scotch filled "above the manufacturer's fill level, indicating that it was tampered with and refilled."

The report says Agent O'Shea met with a bartender, identified in the report only as Patty, and asked her if she knew about a refilling practice.

She replied that, "On occasion, she has seen bottles topped off by almost empty bottles of the same brand," the report says.

Agent O'Shea confiscated the $15 bottle of whiskey and had it tested at a lab in Jessup. Mr. Riggin said tests proved the same brand of whiskey was added to the bottle.

Had there been a different brand poured in, Mr. Riggin said, the matter would be more serious and could result in a $1,000 fine.

Still, pouring the same brand of alcohol from one bottle to another is illegal, Mr. Riggin said, although the last such case in Anne Arundel County was two years ago.

Marvin A. Bond, a spokesman for the state comptroller's office, said his agents investigate only about 20 such cases a year -- out of 5,000 inspections. And most of those, he said, involve bar or restaurant owners trying to pass off cheap brands as premium refilling bottles with expensive labels.

Mr. Bond said the law was more commonly broken decades ago when the alcohol content among brands varied widely. Now, with all liquor around 80 proof, regardless of price, the illicit practice is not prevalent, he said.

All liquor bottles are labeled with "Do not refill" warnings and have a fill line toward the top.

"This has been a situation over the years that has declined a little bit in importance," Mr. Bond said, adding that nevertheless, the law must be enforced.

"If somebody is doing it with one brand, what is to keep them from doing it with another?" he asked.

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