Category Archives: Federal Law

Legal Drinking Ages

Someone asked me at an event about legal drinking ages, so here’s the word…

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website says this:

“All states prohibit providing alcohol to persons under 21, although states may have limited exceptions relating to lawful employment, religious activities, or consent by a parent, guardian, or spouse. Among states that have an exception related to such family member consent, that exception often is limited to specific locations (such as private locations, private residences, or in the parent or guardian’s home.) No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. In addition, many states have laws that provide that “social hosts” are responsible for underage drinking events on property they own, lease, or otherwise control, whether or not the social host actually provides the alcohol.”

First of all, our events are in public places, though it may not feel like it in a quiet park or indoor hall. At events we obey the law – the law of the city/county, state, and nation we’re in.  We don’t have “discreetly damp” sites, they’re either wet or dry, by agreement with the owner. We really can’t afford to lose great event sites, or suffer the hit to our reputation when it comes to renting a site. I’ve seen more than one group thrown permanently off a site over alcohol.

The Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, establishing 21 as the minimum legal consumption and/or purchase age.  It’s enforced by state and local authorities, since states stand to lose 10% of their Federal highway funding if they don’t.


Some states allow consumption when a family member consents and/or is present. Presumably, the family member is over 21. States often define exactly which relatives my consent and in which circumstances the exception applies.

Some States allow an exception for consumption on private property. Our events are rarely if ever on private property. In addition to that, some states specify what kind of private property can be exempted – private residences only, the home of a parent or guardian only, etc.  In some jurisdictions, the parent, legal guardian, or legal-age spouse (yikes) must be present.

Some States also allow exceptions for educational purposes (e.g., students in culinary schools), religious purposes (e.g., sacramental use of alcoholic beverages), or medical purposes. This gave me a moment of hope – education is, if not the heart of the Brewers Guild, then the pericardium surrounding and supporting the heart. But no, the law gets into definitions of what “educational purposes” are, and the SCA doesn’t quite pass muster.

So ignore for a moment that Georgia does not limit consumption by the under-age. Virginia and Maryland require both the location and the presence of a supervising relative to be in force. The Carolinas and the District of Columbia make no exceptions at all to the Federal drinking age. SCA events don’t qualify even where exemptions exist, and Federal law trumps all anyway.

Besides, we’d be setting up our young’uns for a fall. Some U.S. states have legislation that make providing to and possession of alcohol by persons under twenty-one a gross misdemeanor with a potential of a $5,000 fine and a year or more in jail.  All it would take is one unhappy park ranger or local policeman.

So card your drinkers, people. Sometimes you can get Troll to do it, and mark people’s hands or persons, preferably in a period way. Don’t leave a tapped keg unattended – have a keg sentinel who cards everyone who comes for a tasty beverage. That person can even stand guard with a spear if they want (as long as they’re not drinking). Carding makes me feel pretty self-conscious, but I’ve never had anyone give me trouble over it.

True story: we were running a big demo at the National Geographic building for the Staffordshire Hoard display. We had something like 750 people come through that day; it was enormous fun. I was staffing a mead/hard cider station, and we carded everyone who came for a sample. I had just carded the man who had the earliest birthdate we saw that day – 1933! This gentleman laughed, and his friend started to josh us about it. We grinned and affirmed we had to. For some reason, I added that you just never know who might be an undercover or off-duty cop. The woman next in line said, “As a matter of fact…I am.” We carded her too.


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Cordials and Federal Law on Distillation

In medieval times, herbs and spices were soaked in wine, and the wine then distilled into brandy to make medicine referred to as “cordial”. As enactors interested in alcoholic beverages, we’d love to get as close to this as possible, but close just isn’t very possible.  Federal law is very explicit:

139px-Cordial_Glass_(Footed)_svgBasic Permit Requirements under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, Nonindustrial use of Distilled Spirits and Wine, Bulk Sales and Bottling of Distilled Spirits

Title 27 > Chapter 1 >Subchapter A >Part 19 >Subpart C Restrictions on Production, Location, and Use of (Production) Plants

§19.51   Home production of distilled spirits prohibited.

A person may not produce distilled spirits at home for personal use. Except as otherwise provided by law, distilled spirits may only be produced by a distilled spirits plant registered with TTB under the provisions of 26 U.S.C. 5171. All distilled spirits produced in the United States are subject to the tax imposed by 26 U.S.C. 5001.

(26 U.S.C. 5001, 5601, and 5602)

Accesssed 8/29/2014 from the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations – Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco Products and Firearms

You can’t get much plainer than that.

Sorcha here:  Right, so what do we do in our never-ending quest to reproduce the truly medieval fermented beverage? For cordials, the closest we can come:

a) We generally recommend finding white brandy and using it as a base, and adding the laundry list of herbs and spices to it. White brandy is very inexpensive, and doesn’t have flavorings, oak conditioning, or faux-oaking added. Christian Brothers White Frost is a pretty reliable brand.  Made this way, your cordial almost certainly does not taste the same as the original recipe, but flavor wasn’t the point anyway, and this way the ATF doesn’t come knocking.

b) Some recipes just call for herb-soaked wine.  If the recipe says anything about what kind of wine to start with, try to find the closest modern wine you can.  For instance, if the recipe calls for Gascoigne wine, that comes from Gascony, a region in France. Remember however that in the eighteenth century the phylloxera blight killed a lot of grapevines across Europe, and people were spreading cuttings as far and wide as they could to save the grape variety.  Now, a grape grown in France will not taste the same as the same grape grown in California, so it’s nice to find wine grown in the same place the recipe mentions, but that may not be possible. (Gascony does still grow the same grapes – they were some of the lucky ones to escape the blight.)

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