Monday, March 13, 2006

Pennsylvania "case" law - There’s been a load of talk about the nutty alcohol distribution laws in Pennsylvania of late; but I think a lot of people are missing the point, (especially some beer writers).

Just in case you're not from PA, let me enlighten you. In Pennsylvania, cases of beer can only be purchased at beer distributors. Beer distributors cannot sell anything smaller than a case (24 bottles). If all you want is a six pack you need to go to a specially licensed bar or deli. If you get to the deli and decide that you want a case after all because the six pack is more than half what you would have paid for a case in the first place - you're outta luck. Six pack licensees can only sell you twelve beers at a time. On top of all this, the one store that is actually all over the place - the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores - can't sell beer at all. So if you want to get yourself a nice bottle of whiskey to go with that strong ale you love - you're going to make two stops.

That's the situation in a nutshell. This paints an ugly picture for alcohol consumers yes. But it's a picture that the neo-abolitionists, (like MADD et al), love (that's another story).

The folks this system does benefit, and the piece of the picture that most people overlook, is the small, LOCAL, craft brewery. Contrary to popular belief, package brewing is not a highly profitable business. For small breweries costs are high and competition is strong. Local breweries compete with each other, nationally recognized craft brews like Sierra Nevada and Anchor, mega breweries like Sam Adams posing as craft brews, and quality imports from Belgium, England, Germany, and Canada. The average cost to a small brewer of selling 24 bottles in 6-packs is $2.00 more per case than a straight case of 24. That's $2.00 per case extra for packaging only. Six packs also take more labor to assemble and fill. You don't pay wholesale for beer unless you work for a brewer or distributor. So by the time that $2.00 per case gets to you it will be more like $6.00 per case. Now you are looking at paying $30.00 to $35.00 per case by the time that the wholesaler and retailer take their mark-ups.

I agree that we need better laws surrounding the distribution of beer and liquor in PA. But breaking the case is not the way to do this.

Support your local brewery!

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