Legislators Fight Nebraska's Boilermaker Alcohol Ban

It's perfectly legal in Nebraska, as in other states, for an adult to go into a bar and order a Long Island Iced Tea or any other drink that combines several different kinds of alcohol.

But unlike every other state, Nebraska makes it illegal to serve a boilermaker, an Irish Car Bomb or any other cocktail that mixes liquor with beer -- mixed drinks sold throughout the rest of nation.

Nobody remembers exactly when the law went into effect, but Nebraska Liquor Control Commissioner Hobert Rupe suspects it was around the time of Prohibition. Now, he's among those trying to scratch the law from the books, introducing what's become known as the "boilermaker bill" -- though there is no certainty they'll prevail.

VIDEO: Strong opinions about the states law, leftover from prohibition.
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"Was it a problem in 1935?" Rupe asked during an interview with ABCNews.com. "Perhaps. Is it a problem in 2010? I don't think so."

'It's Kind of Silly'

Many bartenders agree, noting a certain hypocrisy in today's enforcement of the ban. "I think it's kind of silly," said Kim Ringo-Bright, general manager at the Starlite Lounge, a bar in downtown Lincoln, Neb. "It doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, a Long Island Tea [which is legal] has five liquors in it. You know, five different kinds of liquor. So you can't do a shot and a beer?"

Not in Nebraska. A 12-ounce Long Island Iced Tea would contain approximately 33 percent alcohol by volume, not counting the ice, while a 12-ounce boilermaker, which is a shot of whiskey in a beer, holds about 10 percent alcohol by volume. The Long Island Iced Tea is legal; the boilermaker is not.

"It would take a number of [boilermakers], and you'd get full before you'd have the same effect as from the Long Island Tea," said Dan Crowell, who studies mixology, the art of making mixed drinks. Crowell also works for Sterling Distributing Company, an Omaha-based liquor distributor.

Originally, the ban was meant to deal with the phenomenon known as "needle beer" or "spiked beer," said Rupe, who is also the president of the National Conference of Liquor Administrators. During Prohibition, most Nebraska communities -- like many other towns across the nation -- had a regulation that prohibited consumption of spirits in public, including alcoholic beer. But non-alcoholic beer was legal, leading some people to unlawfully add alcohol to it: Beer bottles were then corked like wine, allowing some to inject liquor into a bottle with a syringe.

Loopholes in Boilermaker Alcohol Ban

Some 70 years later, most Nebraskans still aren't generally aware of the law. At least once a week, Marypat Heineman, a bar manager and bartender at Starlite Lounge, gets a request for a boilermaker or an Irish Car Bomb. Some are just trying their luck, but most don't know better. Her answer is usually a no, but the law has loopholes.

Besides, Rupe himself admits that enforcement of the ban is sporadic if not virtually nonexistent. He says there are no records of citations for violating the ban.

Heineman smiles as she describes the logic around the loophole. No, you can't serve your customers an Irish Car Bomb if they ask you for an Irish Car Bomb. No, you can't serve them separate ingredients of an Irish Car Bomb (Guinness, Jameson Irish whiskey and Baileys Irish Cream) if they just tried to order an Irish Car Bomb. But yes, you can give them the beer and the shots if you technically don't know -- and they don't say -- that those will be mixed together.

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