Caramel-Colored Rubbing Alcohol Sold As Scotch In N.J.


At one restaurant, a mixture that included rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring was sold as scotch. In another, premium liquor bottles were refilled with water — and apparently not even clean water at that.

State officials provided these new details Thursday on raids they had conducted a day earlier as part of a yearlong investigation dubbed Operation Swill.

Twenty-nine New Jersey bars and restaurants were accused of substituting cheap booze or worse for the good stuff and charging premium prices.

As part of Operation Swill, investigators collected 1,000 open bottles of vodka, gin, rum, scotch, whiskey and tequila, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.

“This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits and is a slap in the face of the consumer,” Chiesa said.

Within seven days, the establishments must turn over records to help state authorities determine how many patrons were overcharged and by how much. They will also have to inform the state which employees were at work the days samples were covertly taken earlier this year.

State officials would not say which establishment used the rubbing alcohol or which one used dirty water. They said no health issues were reported.

TGI Fridays Inc., one firm which had 13 of its franchises cited for selling cheap scotch as high-end, said it was conducting its own investigation, working with The Briad Group, the franchisee that owns the 13 restaurants cited.

The investigation started after the state began receiving more complaints than usual about possibly mislabeled drinks, said the director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Michael Halfacre. An informant with knowledge of the industry contacted the agency in the fall to help in the investigation, he said.

In January and February, investigators went to 63 establishments they suspected were scamming liquor customers. They ordered drinks without ice or mixers and then covertly took samples for testing.

Of 150 samples collected, 30 were not the brand they were claimed to be.

The establishments face suspensions of their liquor licenses and possible revocations if there are enough violations.