Tag Archives: PLCB

Thinking Pennsylvanians, unite!

Regular readers of this site know I hold no love for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and this state’s monopoly on wine and liquor sales. I’ve thought about starting a movement to get these things thrown out. It turns out I don’t need to, because someone else already has.

As part of this, he’s compiling a thoughtful and well-argued list of reasons the PLCB should be abolished. Here’s part of one reason — one that particularly gets my goat.

Reason #4: The Ridiculous 72-Year Old Emergency Tax

You may find this hard to believe, so here’s the proof, right off the PA Dept. of Revenue website. You’ll see at the bottom of the page that the cite is "Emergency Liquor Sales Tax Act, Act of June 9, 1936." The emergency has been over for 70 years, and of course, the money hasn’t gone to the citizens of Johnstown (or…the contractors hired to help the citizens of Johnstown) for many, many years: it goes to the General Fund. It’s just money the State is taking from you every time you buy booze.

The Emergency Tax is an amazing thing, kind of the creamy center of a towering cake of taxes Pennsylvanians pay when they buy booze. First, there’s the actual cost of the packaged beverage. The federal excise tax is added at the producer/importer level. Then the fun starts. The State imposes its set mark-up (for "profit", which in the case of so-called "control states" is really an additional tax, since it all goes to the State) of 30%. Now put that luscious Emergency Tax in there, adding 18% of the cost, the federal excise tax, and the 30% mark-up onto your bill. Think that’s rapacious? Wait, there’s more! That’s right, folks, now you get to add the 6% State sales tax (7% in Philadelphia County)! [Cindy’s note: and in Allegheny County as well.]

Let’s look at that. Say you get a bottle of 100 proof bottled-in-bond bourbon. Cost from producer: $10. Federal excise tax of just about $2.50 (it’s a set amount per gallon of 100 proof liquor; that’s why we bought bottled-in-bond):$12.50. The State’s mark-up of 30% is $3.75: $16.25. Now add the 18% Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax of $2.93 (note that it’s more than the federal tax): $19.18. Top it all off with the 6% sales tax you pay on computers, cars, books, pets, toilet paper (whoops — turns out PA doesn’t tax toilet paper; make that kleenex…which, believe it or not, was what I had there originally, and for some reason, changed it)— $1.15 — and you get a grand total of $20.33. That is more than twice the cost of the whiskey.

From Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished.

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Important for one day

Pennsylvania Welcome Sign

Pennsylvania Welcome Sign, originally uploaded by WestendRaider.

Today I had this email exchange with a friend who lives in San Francisco:

San Fran Friend: So how does it feel to be the center of the country’s attention?

MBM: I love it. I’m going to be so bummed Thursday when everyone starts ignoring us again.

I really expected at least one of the candidates to come to Butler. They did visit towns in Butler County, and I got invitations to attend some events, but no one came to the city of Butler. Hillary didn’t even send Bill to talk to us.

I saw Hillary Clinton in the lobby of the Omni William Penn one morning though. Walked within a few feet of her. Expected to be blocked by security but they seemed unconcerned. I don’t think I look like I pose much of a threat.

How does PA look from the outside today? Bitter? Full of itself?

SFF: regardless what I might think, I would never say anything bad about PA…you never know when a bitter gun-crazy god-fanatic might take it the wrong way.

seriously though, it’s kind of cool that PA is getting all the attention given that they didn’t play the "move up the primary" game.

what does hillary seem like in person? who in your family has been designated to meet Chelsea? you seem to be hitting the entire family.

MBM: Apparently Barack Obama has been a Steelers fan all along. Who knew?

You make an interesting point about PA mattering a lot now precisely because the primary date wasn’t changed. Take that, Michigan and Florida!

For the few seconds when I saw Hillary, she looked a bit too alert and very eager to seem interested. It was 9am on a Saturday, and she was on her way to walk with the mayor and gang in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I assume she had been stopped by a random passerby and was talking with her, and that’s why she was smiling so much. She looked exhausted, frankly, but unwilling to let tiredness stop her. I think ability to go without sleep will turn out to be the most important asset of presidential candidates from here out.

I had assumed that Chelsea would call me up to go for a drink by now. She probably couldn’t get through on my phone because all the state and local campaign candidates were tying up the line.

As much attention as everyone inside and outside of Pennsylvania is paying to the Democratic primary voting, other campaigns will probably have a greater effect on our day-to-day lives. Today I voted for candidates for State Senate, Congress, State Treasurer, and a couple other posts.

Sadly, I was not given the chance to vote on who should head the PLCB. If that were an elected post, you can bet I would run for it.

Also today, I found this interesting map graphic showing how much news is reported around the U.S. (thanks to the ever-interesting Coudal Blended Feed). It makes very clear how much less attention news media pay to the flyover states; it’s not that we have so much less going on, but that they don’t bother to cover it. Brad King at The Modern Journalist has already written a nice, to-the-point rant on the topic, so I’ll settle for a simple "pffffffft" to all y’all who think news only happens in NYC, D.C. and Los Angeles.

And now I’ll go work on making my hyperlocal news/community content site a force to reckon with.


Lost and found in western Pennsylvania

This afternoon I was scheduled to meet up with friends at a coffee shop in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I don’t go to Shadyside often, so I printed out some directions, hopped in the car, and headed south.

About halfway there I realized that I’d taken the wrong route: I was on Route 8 rather than my planned Route 28. But I didn’t fret; the two hook up around the Highland Park Bridge, and the travel distance was just about the same.

So I got to the bridge, crossed, and stayed on Route 8 South. I checked my directions and saw that Google Maps had suggested I take some back roads, so once again I was off track. But again I didn’t worry, because I knew once I reached the intersection with Penn Avenue there would be signs to Shadyside, and I could figure it out from there.

It wasn’t until I parked and was walking to the meetup that I realized that I hadn’t needed the directions at all. I knew my way around yet another area of Pittsburgh.

In my past whenever I’ve realized I know how to get from here to there in an area, I’ve almost immediately moved away. It wasn’t that I wanted to be always lost; rather, it takes me a couple of years to get to know the back roads and alternate routes and connecting avenues anywhere, and it also happens to take me a couple of years to grow bored with a job and want to move on.

But past performance may not be indicative of future results.

I moved back to my hometown of Butler, PA in 1999, thinking I’d spend a few years here regrouping and figuring out what to do next in life. Nearly nine years later, I’ve discovered something that I want to do, and doing it means staying right here, creating great things with people throughout this area.

Western Pennsylvania is lovely. I like the pace of life; I love the rolling hills and green countryside; I dig the arts scene; I appreciate the cost of living; I curse the PLCB; and I wish I could convince more of my faraway friends to come visit, so I could take them on drives through the area and show off how cool this region is.

And I especially want to take everyone on drives now that I’m confident I know where I’m going.

(Check out other stories of Pittsburgh and this region at the Primary Pittsburgh Project.)

Drink — then you’ll see…

Through the kindness of friends, I recently acquired a bottle of Lucid, the sort-of-recently introduced legal absinthe that’s now available here in Pennsylvania and in the rest of the U.S.

It’s a very pricey spirit, costing over $60 in PA and about that much elsewhere. Perhaps you’ve wondered, as I did, is it worth the cost? And does it it cause one to want to cut off his/her ear or otherwise see things as they otherwise are not?

Lucid is 62% alcohol — 124 proof — but one doesn’t drink it straight. You can either add chilled water, or suspend a sugar cube over an ounce and a half of the liquor and pour chilled water over it, melting the sugar into the drink. Once the water hits the absinthe, it turns opaque and white and looks appropriately mysterious.

Previously I’d bought Absente, which is pretty widely available in PA and is touted as absinthe-like. Lucid makes a much more interesting beverage: herbier and lighter, much prettier, less sugary, more complex. It’s also more expensive and harder to get, but the availability may improve over time (especially if by some miracle the PLCB is privatized).

As for the stories of absinthe causing hallucinations: a myth as far as I can tell. Granted, even diluted with sugar and water, this stuff is strong. Drink a couple of glasses and I bet you’ll be seeing pretty colors and swirling lights, but the wormwood won’t necessarily be the cause.

With that said, I confess that at this moment, as I drink a glass of this interesting beverage, my right ear feels hot. Not both ears — just the right one. A hallucination? Shades of Van Gogh? Let’s hope not. Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear, so it’s not quite the same anyway. But it does get one thinking….

All of this took less time than it took me to explain to a clerk at a PLCB “Premium Spirits” store what Armagnac was.

Peterb of Tea Leaves finds the mecca of quality liquor. It’s in Kansas City.

Actually, I’m confident that it’s just anywhere outside of the borders of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

To catch you up on the latest developments in my on-going saga to purchase creme de violette: I sent an email to the special order people of the PLCB and asked if I could order three bottles (the minimum order Peterb mentioned) of Creme de violette, even though it was not listed in the special order database. Within a few hours, I got a phone call from a nice-sounding young lady, checking the details of my order, finding out which retail store the order should be shipped to, and taking a credit card number for the deposit. A slow process, but not altogether painful. I rejoiced briefly and prepared to wait.

A few days later I got another call from the nice-sounding young lady. This time she was apologetic. "I’m sorry, but our distributor says they don’t have any creme de violette and they don’t know when they are going to get any."

Seeing no other option, I said, "OK."

Yesterday, when Peter Twittered that he was in a fabled land where the unobtainable could be obtained, I asked if creme de violette was available. It was, and I rejoice again. 

Violets for your furs


Violets, originally uploaded by Il conte di Luna.

There’s an interesting discussion going on in the comments from my post on Monday about the question of privatizing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Do take a look and chime in with your views.

In the meantime, I want to add an example of what frustrates me about the PLCB: My inability to buy creme de violette in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Creme de violette is a violet-flavored liqueur. It’s an ingredient in various old-fashioned cocktails, where it adds a light flowery element and violet hue.

Or so I’ve read. I’ve never tasted or even seen the stuff.

I’ve asked for it at PA Wine and Spirits stores and no one I’ve spoken with has ever heard of such a thing — nor has anyone offered to help me order any. Of course it’s not listed in the PLCB retail website. It is conceivable that I can special order it, somehow, although I’m wary of the process.

To be fair, creme de violette is not available everywhere. Even famous bartenders brag about having five varieties.

But creme de violette is distributed in the United States, and it seems reasonable that I should be able to buy some. In Boston I could buy it. Or in New York. Or in California, although I guess that’s not too surprising — them hippies are crazy out there.

Is there any reason I shouldn’t be able to order a bottle over the internet, just as I can order a bouquet of actual violets? I can’t think of one. But order it I cannot.

My best options are to drive to New York and smuggle a bottle back (which is illegal — can’t bring bottles into our fair state), or to buy some flowers, pluck off their petals, and marinate them in alcohol to make my own violet liqueur.