Proposals would leave keg-buyers over a barrel

THE BEER POLICE want your kegs.

They want to register your barrels, keep a record of what you drink, then hold you responsible for every last drop.

You know who I’m talking about: The nannies who think they know what’s best for us, the self-righteous killjoys who can’t stand to see anyone having fun, the do-gooders who want to eliminate every adult pleasure for the sake of children.

They took our tobacco. They’re after our red meat.    And one day, they’re going to take your beer.

Well, they can have my keg when they pry it from my cold, stiff fingers.

Pardon the paranoia, but in a world where we’re required to give up our name, address and SS# at every other cash register, I’m suspicious of any attempt to monitor the enjoyment of my favorite adult beverage.

A few months ago, I told you how jurisdictions – including Philadelphia – were beginning to require patrons to swipe their driver’s licenses through a magnetic tape reader before entering taverns. The checkpoints are ostensibly an attempt to keep kids out of the barroom, but they also serve to collect a wealth of info from legal customers, including name, address and birth date.

Not satisfied to track our alcohol consumption in public, the beer police now want to pry into our suds at home.

A pair of bills winding their way through the Pennsylvania Legislature would require beer distributors to place registration tags on kegs sold to individuals. Then, before you buy one for the weekend, you’d have to leave your name, address, etc.

(Keg purchases by retail establishments would be exempt from the provision.)

The idea is that, when the cops bust an underage party, they’ll be able to trace the keg back to the adult who purchased it. Furnishing beer to a minor is a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

At least 15 other states already have the law on the books.

To Felicity DeBacco-Erni, program director for Pennsylvanians Against Underage Drinking, kegs are an evil temptation for kids.

“If you look at where juveniles get alcohol,” DeBacco-Erni says, “often it’s from kegs.” They provide “easy access to alcohol,” she says, and encourage binge-drinking.

Referring to the state’s zero tolerance law (maximum .02 percent blood alcohol for minors), she adds, “A single keg with 15 gallons of alcohol could result in 165 instances of a violation of the state’s zero-tolerance law.”

That’s assuming, of course, you could find 165 kids who wouldn’t mind waiting an hour in line for one cup from a single keg.

I’d point out that one need not purchase an entire barrel to get a buzz. Last time I checked, beer still comes in handy sixpacks.

What’s next, a three-day waiting period for a case of Coors?

Liquor Control Board Chairman John Jones calls the privacy issue “a slippery slope.”

“Is there too much of an element of Big Brother? I happen to think it’s not a substantial risk,” he says.

DeBacco-Erni dismisses privacy concerns completely.

“You already have to give that information to a distributor if you want your deposit back,” she says.

“You really shouldn’t have a problem with that. If you’re not violating any laws, what are you worried about?”

Yeah, life would be just peachy in a police state.

See, privacy isn’t about hiding illegal behavior. It’s about enjoying your own life without someone else watching. In the digital era, they already know the videotapes you rent, the books you read, the roads you drive.

And now they want to know what you’re drinking in the alleged privacy of your own home.

Both DeBacco-Erni and Jones, her boss, acknowledge that keg-tagging is not perfect.

“Keg-tagging is another weapon in the general arsenal against underage drinking,” says Jones. “Will it cure underage drinking? No. But kegs do offer more bang for the buck.”

Jones says the bill is not intended to impose “strict criminal liability” on keg-buyers who let beer slip into the hands of juveniles. “It puts Mr. Smith behind the eight-ball, that he’s responsible for the beer,” Jones says. “And it makes him more careful, so he doesn’t furnish beer to minors.”

So if I’ve got this right, we’re getting ready to have yet another piece of our privacy seized for the sake of a dubious police tactic that will have marginal effect on ending underage drinking – all to remind Mr. Smith not to give Johnny a cup of Bud?

This is just another one of the dopey convolutions we go through because of our puritanical attitude toward booze. The United States is one of only four countries (the others are Ukraine, South Korea and Malaysia) where you have to be 21 years old to drink alcohol.

You can vote, drive, be elected to office and serve in the armed forces at 18. You can even serve alcohol at 18. But you can’t drink it.

Making kids wait till they’re 21 is not working. I don’t know a single drinker who obeyed the rule.

By making them wait, we’re turning kids into lawbreakers, forcing them to drink clandestinely. It’s no wonder they binge; gotta drink fast and furious before they get caught. And then we act shocked – shocked! – when they climb into a car and drive into a tree.

A civilized approach would be to lower the age limit to 18, then allow their parents to teach their children how to handle alcohol at home. A glass of wine at dinner, a can of brew with dad while watching a Sunday afternoon football game – what’s wrong with that?

Keg-tagging is a message that we don’t trust our kids, we don’t even trust ourselves with beer. That’s the message of Prohibition.

Like I said, they can have my keg when they pry it from my cold, stiff fingers.

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Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Troegenator Double Bock.

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