The NJ Attorney General's office had a press conference today about "Operation Swill," its crackdown on 29 bars that fooled customers into thinking its premium liquors were premium. In fact, the bars were using rubbing alcohol—"with caramel food coloring" and called it scotch—and dirty water!
The Alcoholic Beverage Council seized about 1,000 bottles—which are now "securely stored" at their investigation bureau (aka "Party Zone" after 5 p.m.). Here are details:
The operation focused on the 29 establishments because of information from confidential informants, consumer complaints and testing of samples conducted by both the ABC and the manufacturers of the brands. The samples were taken in January and February when ABC investigators visited 63 licensed establishments across the state and covertly took 150 samples.
The undercover ABC detectives visited these establishments and secured samples of premium brand spirits by paying for drinks ordered “neat” - that is with no ice or mixer. Some of the locations visited had previous complaints against them, and some were chosen at random.
The ABC was tipped off by a combination of tipsters and "confidential informants." There will be further testing of the seized bottles—these were the brands that were being faked:
Vodka: Finlandia, Smirnoff, Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One
Gin: Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s
Rum: Bacardi Light, Bacardi Dark, Captain Morgan Spiced
Scotch: Johnny Walker Black, Dewar’s
Whiskey: Jack Daniel’s Black Label, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark
Tequila: Jose Cuervo Silver, Jose Cuervo Gold, Patron Silver
AG Jeffrey Chiesa said that many establishments—including 13 T.G.I. Friday's— just used what they had on hand to pour into the pricey liquor brands' bottles. He said, "I think it's pretty dangerous. I wouldn't drink rubbing alcohol in my house. It serves a very specific purpose: to rub."
He added, "This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits, and it is a slap in the face to the consumer. Consumers should have the peace of mind of knowing that they will get what they spent their hard-earned money on every single time - no exceptions."