Operation Maker’s Mark: The Results Are In

makers_markA couple of months ago, I reported my suspicions that Oscar’s, a popular hole-in-the-wall bar at 1524 Sansom Street, was serving cheap bourbon to customers who ordered Maker’s Mark. I filed a formal complaint with the State Police’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, whose Officer Tara Amato paid a visit to Oscar’s, confiscating six bottles of liquor. Many of the bar’s devoted patrons and one employee attacked on our comments page, accusing me of “bad journalism” and, worst of all, of being a “bourbon fraud.”

This morning, Officer Amato informed me that the state’s crime lab (yes, the same one that analyzes DNA evidence and fibers from murder scenes — probably a good indicator of why it took two months to process the seized liquor) has concluded that the Maker’s Mark she took from Oscar’s in late July is, in fact, not the genuine article. As she stated:

“Results of the analysis of item 1.1 (Maker’s Mark Whiskey) do not agree with the results of the analysis of the authentic sample (item 2.1) of Maker’s Mark Whiskey. Item 1.1 was determined to be contaminated.”

And, as a special bonus, Amato indicated that the bottle of Ketel One vodka was also not Ketel One. The remaining bottles taken from the bar that day were “determined to be true samples.” The results do not specify how the contamination occurred — did Oscar’s water down the booze? substitute rotgut for the real thing? — but clearly something is amiss. Oscar’s did not immediately return a call for comment this afternoon.

According to Amato, her office’s legal department will now determine whether to issue a citation, after which a fine, suspension, or other penalty could be imposed. Whether or not to issue a citation? Though it might come as a surprise to you, I used to be a fan of Oscar’s. Good crowd. Generally friendly staff. And 23-ounce draft beers for $3.25. But in light of these crime lab results, yeah, I think they’d better go ahead and issue that citation.

  • Pete

    HAHA Bobby Drinks is a huge wrong asshole. I’m so glad he got to eat his words. Douchebag.

    Congrats Victor. Good looking out for those getting ripped off at an otherwise good establishment.

  • Mrs. Bourbon

    I love my whiskey & bourbon so I have to say “Bad Oscar’s!” while shaking my finger. Hate to hear that an old school spot like this would be putting the screws to those of us who have faithfully kept them open all these years. I may have to reconsider…

  • Dan

    So where’s “BobbyDrinks” and the other apologists now?

  • Dr D’Neils

    Bobby Drinks was so very anxious for the results to come in – someone go wake him up and tell him it’s time for the BIG REVEAL.

    If life were fair, he’d lick your boots, Victor. But I’m sure Bobby Drinks will figure out a way that he’s still right, even though he was dead wrong.

    Ooooo I’m all a-tingle with schadenfreude!

  • Bobby Drinks

    I don’t believe it. It simply says it was contaminated. It could have had a fruit fly in it, and be contaminated. If Oscar’s is guilty why decide or not to issue. It would just be issued. I would never stop going to Oscar’s. I think i’ll go there right now. I’ll be the guy sipping a Maker’s Mark.

  • http://whiskytastings.blogspot.com/ Glen

    completely believe this.
    got in drunken argument with bartender because their scotch tasted watered down and i feel i would know.

  • http://whiskytastings.blogspot.com/ Glen

    completely believe this.
    got in drunken argument with bartender because their scotch tasted watered down and i feel i would know: http://whiskytastings.blogspot.com/.

  • http://whiskytastings.blogspot.com/ Glen

    to add, in fairness to the bar; the bartender was very nice and though she denied my accusation (i now feel justified in saying she was incorrect, though probably unaware), she gave us a free drink (albeit of the same watered down scotch.

  • Hugo

    Makers has such a distinct taste, why would a bar be dumb enough to try substituting it? A big thank you to Victor for calling them out, that’s insulting to bourbon drinkers.

  • GlassIsHalfEmpty

    Bobby Drinks: Chastened, not stirred.

  • L.L.

    sucks to hear this… but It isn’t surprising, considering Oscar’s has never been a place to follow the rules. Which is one of the reasons why people enjoy it. But I usually stick to beer when I am drinking at Oscar’s.

  • JImbro

    I’m a Oscar’s regular. Sucks if you like Maker’s Mark. But who would order that expensive stuff anyway at a dive bar? lol. Who Cares. I don’t drink the stuff anyway. I’m a Vodka and Cranberry man! I’ll be at Oscar’s Friday!

  • Marty B.

    “If Oscar’s is guilty why decide or not to issue. It would just be issued.”

    Bobby, it’s pretty simple. This is wrongdoing, it’s been exposed. The bar’s been called on it. Now the PLCB is deciding it’s next move. The “whether to cite” is similar to where a motorist is issued a citation or let off with a warning. Oscar’s has been publicly shamed, rhetorically pulled over, now the PLCB should decide whether it’s the public and state’s best interest to leave it at that or whether they find the offense worthy of additional action.

    Good job, Victor.

  • Colin

    I have to see its almost comical that Philly Mag, a periodicial that couldn’t be any more out of touch with the Philly crowd that goes to Oscars, went to such great lengths to “prove” this….

    A couple things.

    1. A center city bar charging next to nothing for Makers Mark. No sh*t Sherlock. What’s next, proof that fast food soda’s are all ice?

    2. The idea that you were going to Oscars for Maker’s Mark is patently ridiculous anyway. Along the same lines as your article on how to save money that suggested we share stable space for our horses. Hahahah

    Ultimately, Oscars is more about the crazy divey atomosphere and the cheap drinks. Its a rule breaking place where you take a leak in the sink. This is its charm and its downfall. Different strokes for different folks. As diverse as the crowd is, I’d prefer it if the Philly Mag elite stayed away. Have fun at Rouge.

  • Dr D’Neils

    Oh sweet jesus son of mary and joseph! You people who say, “it’s a dive bar, what do you expect?” gotta wake up! This is not a sweet old uncle claiming his shitty acme steaks are kobe beef. This is a bar that’s ripping off everybody. It’s stealing from it’s customers (aw! how cute!) and it’s stealing from Maker’s Mark – an American Company (one of the few left to us these days). There’s nothing charming about it.

    What if you found out your pharmacy was giving you delightfully adorable fake medicine?

    Holy moly, you’re a bunch of stupid, enabling idiots.

  • Dr D’Neils

    @ Colin
    I’m glad to finally find out that only rich people deserve to be served what they pay for. I didn’t realize the poors wanted good value too. Next time a working man wants a decent bourbon, let’s just kick him in the nuts!

    Thanks for clearing it all up for me, Colin!

  • tienhoang225

    Keep up the good work. I’m sure there are more bars like Oscar out there. Let’s put all of them out of business for selling fake shit. Thanks Victor.

  • Mrs. Bourbon

    What goofball thinks Maker’s Mark is top shelf? That’s like saying Crown Royal is top shelf! Hahaha!!!!

    The point here is that there are people walking out of other local bars because they think they’re getting the same booz for LESS MONEY at Oscar’s, which they aren’t. It’s not fair to the other bars.

    And don’t act like I’m a snob for ordering Maker’s. Obviously people (besides me) are doing exactly that or Oscar’s wouldn’t have it on the shelf.

  • WTG Victor

    The PLCB should fine Oscars. They ripped people off and by giving them something different than what they paid for.

    To Bobby Drinks, are you seriously that deusional saying that a fruit fly contaminated the MM? It’s not like the bottles are left open for anything (dust, bugs, etc.) can get in there. You are the typical dump American. You know you are wrong and won’t admit it. Smart Americans relize they have made a mistake, own up to it, and learn from it. Clearly you are not the latter. Also can I sell you a brand new Ford F150 for $5,000? I just won’t tell you that the motor has been switched out for a hamster wheel. But you shouldn’t mind about that.

  • Bobby Drinks

    To vic’s buddy above, I was there tuesday and there is a pourer with a HOLE in the botttle, and all bottles. The PLCB could issue a citation, which Oscar’s could appeal. That’s how it works. This is not a “conviction” and victor has no proof that Oscar’s did anything wrong as he doesn’t know what the contamination is. This is a weird vendetta of some type, I mean the guy spent 3 months on this now? Get a life.

  • Paddy

    Having been a bartender in some famous Philly dives, (and some of the classier joints) I have some insight that may shock you. If we (the barstaff) think you are an asshole, we will find a way to cheat you. Yes, you will get a well whiskey and coke from me if you tip me change, and I will charge you for a Maker’s and coke. Makers should not be mixed with coke anyway. I am not excusing what Oscars did. And trust me, they did it.

    All I’m saying is that this shit happens in WAY more bars than you think. Especially the classy looking ones. My point is this: Don’t act like a tool in the bar and we won’t try and fuck you over. Really, just tip us and be nice. You will get a proper drink from the bottle that ain’t watered down every time.

  • Petrie

    Although management is ultimately responsible for the mess, did it ever occur to anyone that a staff member could be doing the switch ups on the bottles? It would be an easy way for them to rip off their employer and customer. Bottom line: the money from the scam might be going into a bartender’s pocket, not Oscar’s cash registers. Just a thought.

  • RJ

    @Petrie: I don’t see the distinction. At the end of the day, an establishment is responsible for its business, and its employees are definitely part of its business. If their employees are stealing from them and making them look bad, they have a responsibility to either correct the problem or pay the consequences. If you’re right, then they didn’t correct the problem, and a fine or other PLCB punishment is proper.

  • Dr D’Neils

    This whole slew of comments just proves to me that people MAKE UP their own set of ethics to suit their own horrible personal agendas. You think someone doesn’t tip enough so you become a THIEF to pay them back. So they’re cheap, but you’re a thief. Which is worse??? And Bobby Drinks saying “contamination” could be a fruit fly! God! you’re so very very stupid, BD! It’s a scientific report – they use scientific language. What they’re saying is that the test profile doesn’t match the control (Maker’s Mark) profile. A fruit fly suspended in the alcohol wouldn’t change the profile. Do you think the crime lab is full of idiots??

  • Boldprint

    Was brought in to audit a hotel bar acquired thru an acquisition to ascertain why the certified numbers were off post sale. It took 3 days, and a comparision of pictures to observe that the staff had placed another register on the bar and were pocketing everytihng going into that register. Anything is possible….

  • Manomanashevitz

    Oscars is not the only guilty one. Continental on 18th is sadly repeating the same. I ordered a Jack Daniels.. (JD has a distinct taste.) It was the same watered down crap. Same thing happened at Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant!

    If you want a real drink that is not substituted I recommend Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.
    You get what you pay for!

  • Bob Barker

    Hey Mano a Mano stop drinking the cheap stuff (jack daniels) and maybe it won’t taste like “watered down crap”!!!!

  • philly scrapper

    Why would an employee water down the liquor? or switch it with another kind? That would only benefit the cash register, or the bartendar by putting less money in the drawer and into their tip cup? Has there been any closure to this?

  • Rockwulf

    Philly Scrapper, here’s one scenario I can think of:

    Bartender has a customer drinking Top Shelf all night and kills a bottle, paying Top Shelf price.

    At the end of the night, when nobody’s looking, Bartender dumps a bottle of Rotgut into the Top Shelf bottle and pockets the difference.

    As far as the Bar is concerned, Bartender sold a bottle of Rotgut and the correct amount was put in the register.

    Bartender walks with extra cash, Management has no idea and Customer get’s called a snob on this board for ordering Top Shelf.

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