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Looks harmless enough, but is it?
Looks harmless enough, but is it?

Is it illegal to serve drinks in copper mugs?

"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee is back for another round, brought to you by Great Northern Distilling: grain to glass spirits, handmade in Wisconsin. The whole month of March, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars readers poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!

About a year ago, during a routine health inspection, Guy Rehorst – owner of Great Lakes Distillery – was informed that it is not legal to use 100 percent copper mugs as drinking vessels for his customers.

According to Health Communications Officer Sarah DeRoo, this is a state-wide – not just a city-wide – code: 4-101.14 Copper, Use Limitation.

"Copper cups are prohibited unless granted a variance that’s approved by the state," says DeRoo.

Rehorst was serving Moscow Mules in copper mugs for many years and was surprised to hear this information. The health inspector said that the copper mugs sometimes have chemical reactions with the ingredients of the drink or that copper could leach into a cocktail.

However, she told Rehorst they could perform a test to see if his cups met the health department’s standards or not. The test required the cocktail to remain in the cup for three hours before being tested.

"It didn’t pass," says Rehorst. "But I told her that leaving a drink in a cup for three hours doesn’t make sense."

The health inspector agreed with Rehorst, and conducted a second test with a shorter amount of settling time for the beverage. The cup passed the second test and Rehorst was told he could now file for the variance to continue using copper mugs. Otherwise, he could discontinue use and buy nickel or stainless steel-lined cups instead.

Rehorst filed for the variance and was approved. The variance must be filed by every bar and restaurant that uses all-copper cups.

"People have been drinking from copper mugs for ages and I’ve never heard of anyone getting poisoned from a Moscow Mule," says Rehorst. "But, we got the waiver and now we can continue using them."

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