Beer me … just not so much

Pennsylvania inches its way out of the dark ages. Starting this fall, maybe, we might be allowed to buy fewer than 24 beers at a time at beer distributors:

The state Senate’s Law and Justice Committee approved a bill that would allow beer distributors to sell less than a full case of beer. If it gets final approval — probably not until this fall — distributors could sell one six pack, a 12-pack, a 15-pack or an 18-pack of beer, in addition to 24-can and 30-can cases that are sold now. An 18-pack is a new form of packaging that has become popular in other states, officials said. The bill also would permit bars and taverns to sell three six-packs of beer to a customer for take-out, as well as an 18-pack. Currently, bars and taverns with special beer-selling licenses are permitted to sell only one or two six-packs.

(Thanks to The Burgh Blog for highlighting this important issue.)

14 replies on “Beer me … just not so much”

  1. Speaking as someone who co-owns a beer distributorship, this is NOT a good idea.

    It’s just another case of legislators with nothing else to do but fiddle with things that aren’t broken.

  2. Erich, I’m interested to know more about your perspective on this.

    I strongly disagree with you that it’s not broken. As a consumer, the current model is broken. For example, I rarely want to buy a whole case of beer. It’s a waste of money for me, because it takes too long for lonely me to drink the whole thing. And since the beer I drink tends to be on the higher end, the money is important. I would buy more beer if I could buy smaller quantities at a time. Even a 12-pack would be an improvement.

    I think longingly back on the days when I lived in Massachusetts or in Virginia and could buy just a six-pack of beer. And I *really* miss buying beer at the grocery store even late at night, as I could in California.

    I realize that the small breweries like Yuengling prefer to deal with fewer retail points of sale — this is at least part of why they oppose allowing beer sales in grocery stores.

    I’ll guess that distributors like you oppose this change in legislation because it will significantly complicate inventory management — is that correct? What are the cons (and pros, beyond selling more beer to people like me) from your perspective?

  3. It actually takes money away from our clients (bars, taverns, pizzerias, etc.), and generates less tax revenue for the state.

    For those who consume smaller and/or higher end quantities of beer, you can always just buy it from a bar or tavern.

  4. Am I the only person who dislikes ordering a six-pack of beer to go in a bar? Maybe this is my personal neurosis.

    Walking into a bar and buying beer to go feels like a public confession of either elitism or loserdom: either “I want to drink but not with you lesser people in this bar” or “I want to drink and have no friends, so I’ll just take this back to my house, thanks.”

    What’s more, bars here in Butler don’t stock the beers I would want to buy. Those that do charge a cover charge after 9pm, so I have to explain myself to the guy at the door or pay extra just to get in and pay for my beer to go. I also have to walk through a cloud of smoke and a crush of people, and then wait at a bar to ask for my purchase.

    It’s not the kind of transaction I want to make — not worthwhile to me. Frankly, it’s probably a big part of why I’ve switched to cocktails since moving back to Pennsylvania. The PA liquor stores have many problems of their own, but at least they are easy to shop in.

    I can see that bars and pizzerias and such will lose the revenue from the six-pack buyers who are braver than I. It’s probably a significant source of revenue for them, so I understand that they would be pushing against change.

    But it seems to me that you, Erich, as a distributor, will make up the revenue that you lose from them with the revenue you get from retail clients like me. So I’m still not clear on why distributors are fighting this change.

  5. We make our money and are home by six p.m.

    The Legislature can do whatever they like, we will not be changing how we do business. We can simply decline to sell in anything less than a 24 pack case. Just like we decline to be open on sundays.

    Incidentally, The State Store system, with the few, if any, faults that it does have, is wonderful. It keeps the revenues generated within the State and it keeps the Mob out of the liquor business.

  6. You’re absolutely right that you as a retailer get to choose how and when you’ll sell your products.

    But other vendors should be able to choose differently from you if they wish. And consumers should be permitted to choose how and when and from whom they’ll buy.

    What I find to be a problem is when consumers are prevented from buying what they want, and when vendors (not you, I grant) are prevented from selling what/when/how they choose — as Pennsylvanians are, in the case of the state-run liquor stores and the highly-regulated beer distributors.

    I guess we’ll agree to disagree on this.

  7. As a consumer, I agree with Cindy. I’d like to be able to buy a 6 or 12 pack without having to go into a bar. Not being from here originally, it seems odd. Do any other states do this? Just curious.

  8. Well, I’m just telling you that the majority of beer distributors will disregard the new regulations and refrain from selling in smaller amounts. There is really no great incentive for us.

  9. Wow! I had no idea Pennsylvania was so weird.

    Though, like, I should talk–New York only *just* got rid of two annoying laws: (1) you can now have wine delivered from out of state, and (2) liquor stores can be open on Sunday, as long as they’re closed for some 24-hour period during the week. It took a few months for them all to rejigger their schedules, but one can now buy a bottle of champagne on the way to brunch, instead of being SOL if you forgot to do so the day before.

    Oh, and I remember what a pain it was when I lived in Seattle: I worked until after midnight, and then my colleagues and I would want to go out for a drink, but the bars all close at 2:00 (and stop serving between 1:30 and 1:45). So we could close the bar down, or we could go to the supermarket and buy a couple of six-packs and hang out at somebody’s apartment.

    But I’ve never heard of not being able to buy less than a case. That’s peculiar. And I’ve almost never heard of getting beer from a bar to go–I heard it was possible to do in Seattle, but I never saw anybody do it.

  10. i see market opportunity. There’s obviously a need for smaller quantities. If the retailers don’t want to change their business model, they are opening the market up for a new player. Markets dictate business models, not policies. go to a pizza joint or restaurant to eat food and maybe grab a glass of wine, not buy a six pack. let the six pack wars begin.

  11. Sri, that’s a great point, well said.

    India, certain liquor stores in PA are now allowed to be open on Sunday from noon until 5pm. So one still has to remember to get the champagne for Sunday brunch before 9pm on Saturday night, but one can now get fixings for magarita and mojitos on the way to the BBQ Sunday evening. We’ve got that 2am closing time problem still though, and I can’t even imagine that it will change in my lifetime.

    Susan, I don’t know of other states that sell beer only by the case at distributors but smaller quantities at bars and restaurants.

    If any state has more restrictive liquor laws than Pennsylvania, it would probably be Utah — there, to get into a bar that serves full-strength beer, the bar has to call itself a “private club,” and you have to join the club. Bars offer short term memberships for people who visit from out of town, and yearly memberships for locals. Or at least, that’s how it was last time I visited there, about six years ago.

  12. I’m one of the few defenders of PA’s current “distributorship” model of beer sales — and that’s primarily because I enjoy the wider variety available at your average beer distributor than I’ve ever found in a grocery store in other states. I’m sure those states have venues that sell things other than Coors Light and Budweiser, but I’ve never found them.

    That said, I find it laughable that distributors will just ignore any new regulations that attempt to make beer purchases more friendly to the consumer. Maybe the gentleman above won’t follow the new regulations — but some enterprising distributor(s) will. Maybe a distributor in a small town, with no competition, can afford to ignore the will of the market, but in a competitive market? Forget it.

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