HARRISBURG - 'Tis the season to be . . . hoppy.
Consider it a holiday gift of sorts from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which has made it officially legal to get a six-pack - or two - delivered to your front door when ordering food.
The LCB, with little fanfare, issued an advisory opinion this month clarifying that restaurants, grocery stores, pizza and sub shops, and other outlets that serve food and beer can also deliver up to two six-packs of beer.
This being Pennsylvania, which has some of the strictest alcohol regulations in the country, there are catches. For instance, customers ordering beer must pay by credit card over the phone, rather than handing cash to the delivery person.
Still, Amy Christie is calling it progress.
"Overall, this is a great win," said Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, which represents bars, taverns, restaurants, and alcohol retailers. "I would say there are a couple thousand places that could take advantage of this and use it to improve their business."
Stacy Kriedeman, the LCB's spokeswoman, stressed that the change is not a result of new laws but a legal opinion clarifying existing regulations.
Here's how it works: A business that sells malt-brewed beverages can apply for a "transporter-for-hire" license, which costs about $1,000, depending on the type of establishment. Anyone with that license can transport up to 192 ounces - or just over two six-packs - of beer.
Kriedeman said the license has been around for a long time, and the advisory opinion simply clarified that establishments selling food and beer can take advantage of it. In fact, a customer could call a licensed sub or pizza shop and just order beer, she said.
Most shoppers know that buying six-packs at bars, delis or restaurants - as opposed to cases at beer distributors, which also deliver to residences - usually involves a stiff markup.
Pete Gaeth, a Western Pennsylvania tavern owner whose letter to the LCB sparked the advisory opinion, said he was initially interested in delivering some of his establishment's long list of craft beers to people out-of-state - but may now take advantage of doing so in-state as well.
"That is definitely something we will be looking into," said Gaeth, co-owner of Roff School Tavern and an investor in Voodoo Brewery, both in Meadville.
Still, there are safety considerations. Topping the list is ensuring that minors don't take advantage of the change.
Craig Mosmen, co-owner of the Couch Tomato Café and the Tomato Bistro in Manayunk, which sells artisan pizzas and craft beer, was unaware of the legislation and said he doubted it would have much impact on his business.
"Our takeout beer program hasn't really been a huge draw," Mosmen said. "Most diners that are drawn to our beer list want to drink it here."
Delivering beer also poses liability issues, even if employees use a mobile scanner to check licenses to avoid selling to minors. "When you evaluate risk and reward, it doesn't seem like something that we would be necessarily interested in offering," Mosmen said.
Industry officials counter that restaurants, bars, and other places that sell alcohol have trained staff to seek proper identification and will not serve (or in this case, hand over) beer to people who cannot verify their age.
"You protect against [abuses] the exact same way you do inside your establishment," said John Longacre, who owns three businesses, including the South Philadelphia Tap Room.
Longacre, who is also president of the Philadelphia Tavern Owners Association, said people in his industry have been asking for the change for years - and said the real winner is the consumer.
"It's about convenience," said Longacre. "And it's a great way to make all sides happy."