A real brew-haha has beer lovers in the City of Brotherly love frothing over with anger.
To one side, the suds uproar is borne out of typographical errors, hard-to-spell beer names and archaic, Prohibition-era liquor laws. To the other, it's a simple matter of making sure bars and beer manufacturers aren't scamming the system.
It all came to a head after an anonymous complaint that a Philadelphia bar was selling beer that had not been properly licensed with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, an agency created after Prohibition in 1933 to regulate the sale of alcohol.
That tip led to raids last week at three upscale bars, where police confiscated three quarter-kegs and 317 bottles of beer that were not believed to have been properly registered with the state. Raids at Memphis Taproom in Philadelphia's Kensington section, Local 44 in west Philadelphia and Resurrection Ale House downtown caught the couple who run them by surprise.
"I feel like there are a lot of typographical errors that caused this," said Leigh Maida, who received calls from staff around midday March 4. "The laws were really developed before there were so many kinds of beers."
Question: Why? Why is it the law to have to register beer at one’s establishment?
Under Pennsylvania liquor law, manufacturers of malt or brewed beverages must pay a $75 annual fee to register each brand. About 2,800 beers are now registered in the state; manufacturers submit applications to the liquor board, showing the agreement they have with the wholesaler.
Answer: Money grab. There is no societal benefit to these laws. Incidentally, often times small brew pubs that will carry just one type of beer from each brand/brewery, that $75 registration fee represents a full 50% of the cost of a keg of beer from that brand. 50% for the privilege of carrying that particular brand.
In the recent raids, a tipster contacted the state, saying the bar owners were selling unregistered beers, said Sgt. William La Torre, commanding officer of the Philadelphia office of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, which enforces the liquor laws. Statewide, police say there are typically fewer than 10 complaints a year about unregistered beer.
Maida and her husband, Brendan Hartranft, don't know who filed the complaint. They believe the problem largely results from archaic liquor laws and misunderstandings about formidable beer names that often get abbreviated.
The tipster should be shot.
The liquor code, they say, is no match for beers with names like Dogfish Head Raison d'etre and a dark ale called 't smisje BBBorgoundier. The rigid code also isn't able to account for when they abbreviate Allagash White Beer to "Allagash Wit" on their menus.
At one bar, Maida had a beer listed as "de dolle Oebier gran reserva;" the beer itself was "de dolle oerbier," but the police had it spelled as "de rolle oebier," she said.
"The laws were really developed before there were so many kinds of beers," she said.
These are obviously crimes against humanity that must be dealt with in the harshest and most irrational manner possible.
Maj. John Lutz, director of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said police are working with the board to try to figure out which of the recently seized beers are registered.
So far, 72 of the 317 bottles seized were being returned after police determined they were registered, Lutz said. No charges have been filed in the ongoing investigation.
"We're trying to sort out the whole labeling issue," Lutz said. "Anything that was just a spelling mistake, hopefully we've caught."
As part of their follow-up to last week's raids, police seized about 12 cases of beer from a distributor in northeastern Philadelphia, he said.
But with the growing number of breweries nationwide, enforcement of the state's liquor laws has become more challenging.
Words (almost) fail us. We have an obvious bias on this matter (a small government bias in case you were wondering) but this is just good ol’ fashioned harassment, plain and simple. It’s difficult to imagine the police force of a big city like Philly doesn’t have any more pressing issues than proof-reading menus and bar bills.
Again, there is absolutely no societal benefit to these laws. They bring nothing to the table save ensuring a revenue stream to the state and bar owners and managers making sure the wait staff can spell correctly.