In Trade Restriction by Clyde Mooney

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Victorian venues are steeling themselves over new zero alcohol laws, with some going so far as to ban the ever-popular Lemon, Lime & Bitters.

New rules have come into effect across Victoria banning licensed premises from serving any liquor to minors under any circumstances. Previously it was allowed for venues to serve minors alcohol during a meal if in the company of a parent or guardian.

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Section 3 of the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (LCRA) specifies “liquor” as a beverage (or other prescribed substance*) intended for human consumption with alcoholic content greater than 0.5 per cent (by volume, at 20° C).

The very family-friendly Panton Hill Hotel has taken the new regulations to the extreme by banning the sale of tee-totalling pub classic the Lemon, Lime & Bitters (LLB) due to the alcohol in the bitters.

Panton Hotel. Image: Google maps

Commonly used bitters contain a potent 45 per cent alcohol (example: Angostura) – but only a trace amount is used.

The pub reported to News its decision to ban sale of the LLB to minors was due to a lack of clarity on whether one could amount to being determined an alcoholic drink. The VCGLR has previously reported that the (minor) addition of bitters to a soft drink did not typically constitute liquor, but it did depend on the amount added.

Panton manager Judy Buckingham relayed that people don’t want “just one or two drops … they want eight or ten”.

Ten drops of a bitters with an ABV of 45 per cent in a 425mL glass of LLB translates to a drink that is approximately 0.03 per cent alcohol.

This means that for an LLB to exceed 0.5 per cent – the ‘non-alcoholic’ upper limit – it would require around 160 drops of bitters.

Alternatively, a person would need to consume 81 LLBs with a generous ten drops of bitters to effectively consume one standard drink’s worth of alcohol. This would need to be done roughly within an hour to measure on a breathalyser.  

The Panton Hill Hotel is erring on the side of caution, in fear of the $19k fines being levied at pubs, bars and restaurants in breach of the new regulations.

“As long as the product does not fall within the meaning of section 3 of the LCRA [including regulation 6, below] it is lawful to serve to a person under the age of 18 years old,” clarified a spokesperson for the Victorian Commission for Gambling & Liquor Regulation (VCGLR). 

*LCRA regulation 6 defines a Prescribed Substance as:

a) an alcohol-based food essence that is supplied by retail;

b) a food preparation that is intended for consumption in a frozen form;

c) vapour that would as a liquid be a beverage with an alcohol content greater than 0.5 per cent by volume at a temperature of 20° Celsius.