Friday, May 2, 2008

Reason #3 -- Where's the Beer?

It's always a struggle when I try to explain Pennsylvania's booze-selling "system" to folks from outside the state. We don't have the 3.2 beer dichotomy some states have, or the ridiculous beer taxes they have in the South (your beer taxes are flippin' ridiculous, and you should tell your state legislature to lower, good luck), or a useless keg registration law. What we have are the State Stores, where you have to go if you want to buy wine and liquor (except for buying direct at Pennsylvania wineries), and that's weird enough.

But when I tell them that you have to go to a different store to buy beer, a privately-owned store called a "distributor," and buy it by the case; or go to a bar and buy it by the six-pack (but only two six-packs at a time)... They look at me like I'm nuts.

Hey, guys, it's not me: it's the Pennsylvania Liquor Code that's crazy.

Reason #3:

Beer, wine, and spirits cannot be sold in the same store.

Why don't the State Stores sell beer? It's not that I want them to. I just don't understand why they don't. Of course, I don't understand why beer distributors can't sell wine.

I can guess. I suspect it's because the State didn't want to be in the business of keeping anything refrigerated, which even they must realize has to be done with unpasteurized draft beer. It might have had something to do with the sheer bulk of beer: $500 worth of beer takes up a lot more room than $500 worth of liquor or wine.

Whatever it is, it's as screwy as every other part of the PLCB and the Liquor Code. (Why do we call it "Liquor Code" and Pennsylvania "Liquor" Control Board, anyway? Wine and beer are great, but they're not "liquor." Boobs. Philistines. Know-nothings. But we knew that.) It's arbitrary, it makes no sense. Perfect!

Tell you the truth, I'd like to see a system of privately-owned "package stores," selling all kinds of booze (any way you want it: cases, singles, kegs, cold, warm, whatever), snacks, maybe a deli, booze paraphernalia (glassware, towels, books, magazines, etc.), and maybe lottery tickets and smokes. If that was as common as a drugstore, I wouldn't care if it wasn't in the supermarket. I'd really rather see booze as a specialty store...but I'm just one guy. I think we can all agree that it would make a lot more sense to have wine, beer, and spirits sales all under one roof, whatever that privately-owned and operated roof might be.

This reason really bugs me because it's arbitrary, because there's no reason given. It also has lead to beer being the red-headed stepchild. For example, the State Stores took credit cards for wine and liquor sales for years before beer distributors were allowed to. The vaunted Chairman, John Newman of Sainted Memory, did wonderful things for wine-buyers in the State: beer got the back of his hand, except for Sunday sales at distributors.

The PLCB should be abolished and the Liquor Code rewritten to put all the booze -- spirits, wine, and beer -- where it belongs: in one place, for sale in any quantity, by private businesses.

This one's pretty simple. Which makes it all the more frustrating.


Anonymous said...

You obviously haven't been to one of the many beer bottle shops all around Pittsburgh where you CAN go in and buy one, two, three or 10 bottles of beer (not prepackaged). You can mix and match different bottles and these places aren't all bars. It's hard to explain but take a look at 3 Sons Dogs and Suds in Wexford to see what I mean. BELIEVE ME I agree with you 100% about the PLCB and our liquor laws, but the beer part isn't actually accurate. Nice blog, though!

Lew Bryson said...

But it is accurate, ls. What I said in this post is that I don't understand why you can't buy liquor, wine, and beer in the same store in PA. I've been in plenty of bottleshops -- where I live near Philly, and I've been in D's in Regent Square in Pittsburgh -- but that's not the same thing. And technically...they are bars, they have the same kind of license as a bar, they just have the option of only selling to-go beer. Cheers!