A pub in Victoria has reportedly banned the traditional lemon, lime and bitters drink from service to minors and their own staff.

The Panton Hill Hotel has responded to new Victorian laws prohibiting the supply of alcohol to minors on licensed premises under any circumstances.

The mainstay of responsible drivers and teetotallers has apparently fallen foul of the pub’s strict approach to recently introduced Victorian liquor regulations.

While the traditional lemon, lime and bitters mix ordinarily features Angostura bitters, the bitters’ relatively high ABV of 44 per cent has caught the eye of the hotel’s management.

Panton Hill Hotel Venue Manager Julie Buckingham told Australian Hotelier: “Anything that has an alcoholic content in it shouldn’t be served to children.

“We had liquor licensing out just before Christmas and it made us a little more wary of everything. They said kids can’t even come up to the bar to be served a soft drink, they would have to be accompanied by an adult. We did have kids coming up to the bar asking for an LLB and it’s a really fine line. We don’t know what sort of fines they could impose on us. At $19,000 a pop for serving a minor liquor, it’s really unaffordable for a hotel like us.”

Beyond fines, Buckingham also confirmed the hotel’s concerns around apparently contradictory licensing regulations, along with the potential impact for over-18 customers blowing over zero in a breath-test.

“In our opinion, for us to purchase bitters for behind the bar, we have to have a liquor licence – to purchase it and to sell it on. If I have to have a liquor licence to purchase it, why am I then able to serve it to minors? I think that contradicts the whole liquor licensing policy. You can’t walk into a normal shop to buy it [bitters] – you have to walk into a bottle shop to buy it. Yet parents expect us to serve it across a bar,” says Buckingham.

“If we’re serving an alcoholic drink across the bar, even an 18 year old, they’ve got to be zero to drive – they can’t have any alcohol in their system. We’re not saying one LLB will put them over on a breatho, but say they sit there drinking for four hours with their parents and have four, five or six of them and then get in their car and drive, are they going to blow over? I don’t think there’s been a test to see and we don’t want to be the ones that cause that and receive the fines later on.”

The Panton Hill Hotel, (c) Google 2019

The Panton Hill Hotel, (c) Google 2019

In response, a spokesperson for the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation said: “A bottle of bitters is liquor, and a mixed lemon lime and bitters drink can be considered alcoholic, however it does depend on the amount of bitters used in the drink.

“The minor addition of bitters to a soft drink would not normally constitute liquor under the legal definition.

“We advise all our licensees to take care that an appropriate mix is used, particularly if being supplied to minors, given the recent legislative changes mean that licensees must ensure no liquor is supplied to minors on licensed premises, even if they are partaking in a meal and accompanied by adults.”

Buckingham believes the recent regulation still leaves many questions unanswered. “[Licensing] said there’s now no alcohol to minors, but they’ve never come out and said whether bitters is an alcohol, they talk about the percentage of alcohol in a drink. But what you pour into a drink may be different to what I pour. One person may pour four or five drops, somebody else might like it stronger and put eight to twelve. Does it make it double the strength? Does it show up [on a breatho]? Will it cause drama for somebody when they go to drive home? Do we really need kids to have alcohol, even if it’s just a couple of drops? We’re trying to stop kids from drinking alcohol and yet people come in [to the hotel] expecting us to serve their kids.”

Responding to the ban, Tanya Mah, Angostura Brand Manager, Australia told Australian Hotelier: “The recommended serve of a Lemon, Lime & Bitters contains five dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters, which creates a non-alcoholic beverage. By law, a drink is deemed alcoholic at 0.5 per cent ABV and as the bitters are added at such a small volume, the drink doesn’t register as being alcoholic.

“Over 100 million serves of Lemon Lime and Bitters are consumed by Australians every year because the drink has become the signature Australian bar soft drink.”

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