Beer flap coming to a head

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By Bob Warner and Don Russell

Faced with anger, confusion and disbelief from beer-drinkers and the beer industry, Pennsylvania lawmakers are pressing for an explanation of recent State Police raids on bars and distributors, over allegedly unregistered brands.

The state Liquor Control Board posted a new list of legally registered brands yesterday, including several of the popular beers that were seized last week from three high-end city taprooms.

The liquor-enforcement arm of the State Police has quietly returned some of the confiscated brew to bar owners.

But both agencies continued to dodge questions on the armed raids against the three bars, and the chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee scheduled a hearing in Harrisburg next month to get answers.

“The way things were done, I wasn’t happy with,” said state Rep. Bob Donatucci, a South Philadelphia Democrat. “We’ve heard what everybody else has heard, one agency blaming the other, typical BS. . . . I can guarantee you, we’re gonna straighten out the problem, one way or the other. “

He said his committee and its Senate counterpart, the Senate Judiciary Committee, would hold a joint hearing on the raids April 13.

Donatucci said he thought the state had been making progress with its liquor system the past 10 years, “making Pennsylvania more consumer-friendly, more business-friendly. Then something like this happens and throws a monkey-wrench into the works. If I was a licensee, I’d be very upset. “

“These raids are already having major implications on the way we’re doing business,” said a beer wholesaler who asked not to be identified. “You can say goodbye to one-offs [one-time-only brews manufactured in small quantities by some beer-makers] unless the breweries pay 75 bucks to register the brand. “

He said the city of Philadelphia, which collects 10 percent on liquor sales, stood to lose tax revenues from the banned beers. “That’s the last thing this city needs right now,” the distributor said. “The state is coming down on small businesses at the worst time possible. “

After the raids, bar owners throughout the city had quickly pulled bottles of some of the blacklisted brands. Earlier in the week, it was nearly impossible to find a bottle of Duvel, the popular Belgian ale.

In the last two days, however, beer importers and brewers re-registered about 75 brands, including Duvel.

With the red tape cleared, bars began pulling secreted sixpacks from their basements and returned them to their menus.

“We’re scared,” one bar owner told the Daily News. “I’ve instructed my staff to match every beer we get delivered with the PLCB’s list of registered brands. If it’s not on the list, we’re not going to take delivery. “

Sources told the Daily News that several beer distributors in other parts of the state had been visited by State Police in search of unregistered beer.

Meanwhile, area food and beverage blogs called for protests against the LCB and the State Police. One local beer blogger, Lew Bryson of Bucks County, launched a Facebook page on Tuesday called “Abolish the PLCB-Rewrite the Code. ” Within 48 hours, it had attracted more than 2,500 followers.

A local group known as the Fishtown Beer Runners scheduled a 6.5-mile run March 25 to one of the raided bars, Local 44 in West Philadelphia, “to highlight the need for the state Legislature to reform the antiquated PA liquor laws.”

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