Bud Kennedy

Top-shelf theft: Texas’ ‘Operation Bottoms Up’ cracks down on drink-switching

Premium tequilas were replaced by cheaper brands at some bars or restaurants, the TABC found.
Premium tequilas were replaced by cheaper brands at some bars or restaurants, the TABC found. Special to the Star-Telegram

If your Grey Goose drink tastes more like goose feathers, there might be a reason.

Top-shelf liquor was replaced with the cheap stuff — or worse — in one-third of the Texas bars and restaurants tested by state agents, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced Thursday.

No names yet, but one Fort Worth bar or restaurant and four in the Dallas area were among 21 caught serving cheap or unbranded liquor in a statewide sting named “Operation Bottoms Up.”

Agents tested 153 drinks in 68 bars. Fourteen bars face state fines or suspensions and another seven remain under investigation, TABC spokesman Chris Porter said in Austin.

In the Arlington office, TABC Regional Director Victor Kuykendoll said agents took samples of Patrón tequila, Grey Goose vodka, Crown Royal blended whiskey — “we believe those are the most commonly substituted,” he said.

“In some cases, they weren’t even using alcohol from a licensed manufacturer,” he said.

“God only knows what they’re putting in those drinks. … They can buy a lower-end brand and substitute it to pocket money. But we’re concerned where the source is and whether it’s even safe to drink.”

Kuykendoll said he ordered a drink and knew it wasn’t poured with the right brand. “They said, ‘Oh, our apologies — we thought you ordered this one,’” he said. “They know.”

Carlos Cueva has managed several of the busiest Dallas and Fort Worth bars and plans to open his own soon in the West Seventh Street corridor.

In a Facebook comment, he wrote that some owners tell bartenders to sell a $3 to $6 well-drink brand or something cheaper as a $7 to $14 premium brand, to the tune of 1,000 drinks a night.

“Add that up,” he wrote. “Some owners or bar managers are just born cheaters.”

I’ve heard third-hand of restaurant and bar managers who say it doesn’t matter whether they secretly substitute a menu item or drink, because patrons are really paying for “the experience.”

I don’t know any patrons who agree.

From TABC headquarters, Porter emailed that both agents and Texans expect customers to get exactly what they ordered.

“The vast majority of retailers do this,” he wrote, explaining that Operation Bottoms Up is meant to ensure Texans are not “defrauded” or endangered.

That might be risky whiskey.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy