Bayou Bob contends that his snake vodka is legal t|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|04/09/08 at 11:37:39|richard_f|xx|0|86.131.89.65|Bayou Bob contends that his snake vodka is legal to sell
By JACK DOUGLAS Jr.
Star-Telegram staff writer
State alcohol agents say they seized 429 bottles of vodka, each
containing a baby rattlesnake.

SANTO -- A rattlesnake rancher in Palo Pinto County says his bottled
concoction of snake and vodka is an "ancient Asian elixir" used for
medicinal purposes and not, as the state says, bootlegged beverage
with a pinch of fang.

Bob Popplewell, who for more than 20 years has raised rattlesnakes and
turtles at Bayou Bob's Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch alongside
Interstate 20, 14 miles south of Mineral Wells, surrendered to
authorities Monday after warrants were issued for his arrest on
misdemeanor charges of selling alcohol without a license. Last week,
agents for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission confiscated 429
bottles of the snake-infused vodka from Popplewell's snake farm, along
with one bottle of snake and tequila.

At $23 a bottle, that is nearly $10,000 worth of hooch and reptile,
TABC agent Scott Jones said.

Popplewell, known to locals in these rattler-infested hills as Bayou
Bob or the snake man, spent 10 minutes in the county jail before being
released on his own recognizance.

In an interview at his ranch near the small town of Santo, Popplewell
said he was simply catering to some members of the Asian community who
like to consume certain animal and insect parts -- for wellness and
stability -- that most Americans would find disgusting.

"It's almost a spiritual thing," said Popplewell, 63, who said his
paying customers have also included uniformed officers who wanted the
bottles of snake and vodka as conversation pieces.

He said he buys only the cheapest vodka, using it as a preservative
for the 10-inch snake he squeezes into each bottle.

And when the two are mixed, Popplewell said, it becomes a
nasty-tasting, sickly sweet concoction that he likened to cough syrup.
"I've honestly never seen a person drink it," he said.

Popplewell said he does not feel he has done anything illegal and will
fight the Class B misdemeanor charges of selling alcohol without a
license and possessing alcohol with intent to sell. A conviction
carries a maximum penalty of a year in the county jail and $1,000 in
fines.

The TABC, which has filed a criminal complaint against Popplewell, is
not buying his argument that he's selling healing tonic. "It's sold
for beverage purposes, and he knows what he's doing," TABC Sgt.
Charlie Cloud said.

And even if Popplewell were marketing his drink as an elixir, highly
regarded in Asian cultures, his use of vodka -- no matter how cheap --
requires him to get an industrial permit from the state, Cloud said.
The same type of license is required for restaurants that make
beer-battered onion rings, he said.

"He doesn't have any permit at all," Cloud said.

Popplewell got crosswise with animal-rights groups last year when he
shipped thousands of turtles to Asia, where turtle meat is considered
a delicacy. He said the same "tree-hugging" activists are now
pressuring the TABC to go after him.

Cloud said a complaint prompted the TABC to send an undercover agent
of Asian descent to Popplewell's snake ranch to buy two bottles of
rattler vodka. "I don't know if he's a tree hugger or not. And I don't
care," the sergeant said, referring to the person who complained about
Popplewell.

There is some belief in Asian cultures, going back hundreds if not
thousands of years, that a snake in booze has medicinal properties,
said Camilla Hsieh, senior lecturer for Asian studies at the
University of Texas at Austin.

In Taipei, Taiwan, vendors line a street -- nicknamed Snake Alley --
and offer the gall bladder from a freshly killed snake, immersed in a
small glass of strong liquor for the highest bidder to drink, Hsieh
said. The distasteful blend is believed to improve eyesight or, for
men, enhance sexuality, she said. "It's like the ancient version of
Viagra."

Such elixirs are joined by other concoctions that involve drinking
turtle blood and the harvesting of sexual organs from tigers, Hsieh
said.

"I disagree. I think it's cruel," she said, "but it has its roots" in
Asian custom.
|| Re: Bayou Bob contends that his snake vodka is leg|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|04/09/08 at 11:38:22|richard_f|xx|0|86.131.89.65|Sick little turd.||