"BREAKING: SIX-PACKS APPROVED FOR SALE AT PENNSYLVANIA GAS STATIONS!"
- Headline on Gov. Wolf's blog
WITH THAT, Pennsylvania, your beer laws have finally entered the 20th century.
And, yes, I do mean last century, for despite the screaming caps, last month's approval is both meaningless and illustrative of the small thinking that accompanies liquor regulation in this state.
For starters, the approval applies only to nine gas stations statewide, and most are in the boondocks, so . . . next time you are in Mahanoy City, fill 'er up!
And the approval still faces a possible reversal by the state Supreme Court, with a beer wholesalers group battling a chain of convenience stores over the gas station regs.
That hasn't stopped Gov. Wolf from claiming - complete with a grade-school-quality logo - that he had something to do with "freeing the six-pack." All he did was write a letter to the board, an act that the blog "Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished" called "nothing but shameless self-promotion."
Pennsylvania, a state where you must visit two different stores to buy a case and a six-pack, and neither of them sell wine or whiskey, has a long way to go before it can enter the 21st century. Here are a few suggestions:
Truly free the six-pack. Selling beer at a gas station is a step in the right direction, but look closer and you'll see little has changed.
Gas stations can sell beer by the six-pack only if they classify themselves as restaurants. That means they must provide food and a seating area for 30 people, presumably to accommodate the many, many folks who enjoy dining at their local Sunoco.
If the governor and the legislature really want to free the six-pack, they could start by legalizing their sale everywhere, from the Wawa to beer distributors. Get rid of the silly seating rules. Get rid of the 12-pack minimums.
If a business has a liquor license, it should be able to sell beer, wine, and spirits, in all shapes and sizes. Then we could end the farce of forcing Pennsylvanians to troop all over town just to properly stock a backyard party.
Allow distributors to sell more than just beer. Now that grocery stores can sell everything from six-packs to sushi under one roof, the same privilege should be extended to beer distributors.
Under current law, these mostly mom-and-pop businesses are limited to about 50 specific items. For example, they can sell frozen pizza but not hot, freshly baked pizza. They can sell beef jerky but not roast beef sandwiches. They can sell paper cups but not glass mugs.
They can, however, sell pickled pigs feet and rock salt.
Allowing distributors to sell more products will help small businesses compete against the likes of Acme.
Allow mail-order beer sales. Among the lesser-noticed provisions in the historic wine reform bill signed last month by Gov. Wolf is one that allows Pennsylvanians to purchase directly from out-of-state wineries. For wine aficionados plagued by the state store system's abysmal selection, this is very good news.
However, the same provision should be extended to beer.
It's true that Keystone State beer drinkers really don't have a lot to complain about when it comes to selection. We have world-class local breweries and an incredible wealth of imports and out-of-state brands.
But that's no excuse. Direct sales would not only allow local beer geeks to track down unique, small-batch bottles that are not widely distributed, it would also pave the way for direct, out-of-state sales for Pennsylvania brewers.
Legalize beer auctions. The new law allows certain nonprofit organizations to raise funds by auctioning off bottles of wine. Again, there's no such provision for beer, which has just as many rare brands and vintages as wine.
By the way: I see this as a massive loophole that will further degrade the State Store system. It won't be long till some sharp operator opens up his own "nonprofit" wine store with hourly "auctions."
"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell, executive director of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild. Follow him on Twitter @beer_radar or sign up for his weekly email update at joesixpack.net. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.