Why you shouldn’t raise a toast to the proposed Sunday sales bill

WITH ALL due respect for tailgaters who routinely forget to load up on beer before the big weekend game, let me tell you why the move to legalize Sunday sales at Pennsylvania beer distributors is a bad idea.

And, no, it’s not because I think you’re a bunch of lazy asses who shudda planned ahead.

The bill making its way through Harrisburg is a classic case of lousy, last-minute, self-interested lawmaking that falls short of solving any of the real problems facing the industry and consumers.

In the rush to pass this bill before the end of the legislative session, lobbyists are loading it up with provisions to favor the megabrewers from St. Louis and beyond to the detriment of smaller, homegrown beermakers who bring diversity – and jobs – to our state.

One proposed amendment to the Sunday sales bill is intended to provide millions of dollars in savings to Diageo, the London beverage giant, while denying those same savings to nearly all of Pennsylvania’s 70 microbreweries. (See adjoining story. )

Insiders believe that amendment will get slapped down. But the point is that the Sunday- sales bill is the start of reckless, piecemeal reform that will do more harm than good.

On its face, legalizing Sunday beer sales at distributors seems a no-brainer. Many state liquor stores are open on Sundays, as are delis that sell sixpacks, so it’s only fair, as the 400-member Malt Beverage Distributors Association argues, that they get the same competitive break.

But if you talk to individual distributors, as I have, you quickly find that many of them have no interest in expanding their hours.

Sunday is a day off for these small businessmen, and many of them doubt the extra workday will increase sales.

At a recent meeting of beer distributors in Bucks County, for example, a majority of those attending had no interest in Sunday sales, said Joe Bound, one of the region’s biggest distributors.

“I’m just not so sure that changing the law is good for anybody,” said Bound, who’s been in the business for 58 years. “I doubt consumption is going to go up. So all they’re doing is shifting the sales from one day to another. “

But as soon as the competitor down the block opens on Sunday, you have no choice.

Chuck Greenstreet of Stockertown Beverages in Northampton County said, “Our feeling is that if the law passes and we can be open, we will. But unofficially, I need time to mow the lawn and play with the kids. “

The bill’s main backers naturally paint this as a “consumer-friendly” issue.

The coalition to Modernize Our Beer Laws issued a poll that says more than two-thirds of regular beer-drinkers support Sunday sales.

(MOBL, by the way, is funded by such pro-consumer groups as Coors, Anheuser-Busch and Miller. )

The bill would open distributors on Sundays for all of five hours, from noon to 5 p.m.

Those hours are hardly a convenience to anyone. Instead, they’re calculated not to offend churchgoers, which in Pennsylvania is always the biggest stumbling block when the topic is booze.

Indeed, the limited hours underscore the real intention of this bill: It’s a first, tepid step toward rewriting Pennsylvania’s archaic beer regs.

We all like to gripe about the state’s goofy beer laws. No sixpacks at beer distributors, no cases in delis, two sixpacks at a time in bars . . .

The rules are leftovers from the 1930s, when the Prohibition was ended and lawmakers were freaked about the mob’s control of demon rum.

Capone is long dead, so it’s time for change.

But the fact is many of the state’s unique, smaller breweries – especially Yuengling – survive today because of those rules. Without them, the Borgs from St. Louis – who account for about 50 percent of all beer sales nationwise – would have long ago assimilated shelf space here.

Instead, according to figures cited by the Wall Street Journal, A-B sales are under 29 percent in Pennsylvania, the lowest in the nation.

So here’s the deal:

Fix the beer laws, open on Sundays, even.

But not with the proposal that’s on the floor in Harrisburg. The bill doesn’t account for tavern owners, who hold a big stake in the state’s beer industry, and I’m not so sure it offers much to consumers.

You want reform, get everybody together – consumers, bar owners, beermakers, distributors and community groups – and write some sane laws.

This piecemeal, one-toe-at-a-time approach only plays into the hands of the big guys, the ones who can afford high-powered lobbyists whose only aim is to tweak the law for their backers’ financial advantage.

In the meantime, tailgaters, get your act together. Protect Pennsylvania beer. Buy your brew on Saturday.

Beer radar

Belgians are chuckling over the new corporate name for beer giant Interbrew (maker of Stella Artois). After merging with Brazil’s AmBev, the company changed its title to InBev which, as beer expert Tim Webb notes, is Antwerp slang for cunnilingus . . .

Draft beer to go? A handful of bars (notably, the Grey Lodge in Mayfair) and most brewpubs offer takeout growlers of fresh beer. But now the Sixpack Shop (7015 Roosevelt Blvd., Northeast) – yes, a dreaded “stop ‘n’ go” – is breaking new ground with take-home draft. Look for the likes of Neversink, Anchor or Victory poured fresh from a tap.

Lake Placid Craft Brewing beers from New York are making their way into Philly. Get a taste of 46er IPA and its flagship Ubu Ale, an English-style strong ale. And California’s Lagunitas Brewing is here, too, with an excellent Czech-Style Pilsner, a very drinkable IPA and a powerfully sweet Brown Sugga barleywine . . .

Victory Prima Pils did well against tough competition at the European Beer Star competition. It took a bronze medal in the Bohemian pilsner cate-gory . . .

If you haven’t seen Tammy yet, do yourself a favor and check out the Virtual Bartender at Beer.Com. She pours a helluva pint. No, she won’t take off her top, but she will show you her tattoo . . .


Tomorrow: “Craft Brewing in North America: a 20-year Retrospective” by beer historian Rich Wagner. The talk takes place at Yards Brewing (2439 Amber St., Kensington) at 2 p.m. Admission is free. Info, 215-634-2600.

Tomorrow, Sunday: Great Beers of America Classic Beer Festival, a two-day beer fest at Split Rock Resort, Lake Harmony, Pa. $45. Info, 800-255-7625.

Nov. 26: Dogfish Head Minute by Minute, a tasting of the Delaware brewery’s highly hopped draft ales, 60-Minute, 90-Minute and 120-Minute IPA. Taps open 8 p.m. Info, 215-624-2969. *

Joe Sixpack, by staff writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Landmark India Red Ale. 


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