a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, April 1, 2011

Soured by Pennsylvania's ridiculous liquor laws

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – Pennsylvania appeared to be stepping out of the Dark Ages when its lawmakers permitted the sale of six packs of beer at select grocery stores two years ago.

The store in Pittsburgh with some of the best brew turned out to be a Giant Eagle Market District, which stocks top shelf craft beer in its “cafe.” The megagrocery store gets around the state’s liquor laws, though, by pretending to be a bar where customers can only purchase single serve food items prepared at its nearby food gallery. The sale of groceries, something as insignificant as a quart of milk, is not permitted in the fenced-off beer department.

Regardless, the store in Robinson Township quickly became a regular stop, a place where I could easily satisfy my odd taste for a gourmet chocolate brownie or cupcake washed down with a good India Pale Ale.

That convenience has come to an end. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and store’s management have decided a couple of cupcakes are not single serve food items. Two cupcakes have to be purchased at a different cash register in the store, the cafe clerk said Thursday.

“I have always paid for them here,” I replied.

“Not anymore,” the clerk said, while aiming her bar code reader at the six pack of Dark Horse Brewing Co. Crooked Tree IPA that I had selected. The two raspberry iced cupcakes were set aside, with instructions to pay for them around the corner at the coffee bar.

“How could they not be single serve food?” I said. “I could easily sit down over there and polish off a half-dozen of them.”

“They’re not,” she said. “They’re from the bakery. I cannot sell them to you.”

Now this has to sound ridiculous to those of you who live anywhere else in the union, in any number of states where beer is commonly sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Here in Pennsylvania a guy often has to walk into a dark beer garden wrenching of cigarette smoke to buy a few bottles of beer to take home to drink. And most often the selection is limited to boring six packs of Budweiser or Coors Light or 40 ouncers of Colt 45.

Or, he has to travel sometimes a good haul to a place called a distributorship, where beer is only sold by the case or keg.

So I take my IPA and two cupcakes over to the woman at the coffee bar, while working en route on those anger management skills.

That clerk took one look at me, rolled her eyes and said, “I know. You are frustrated.”

Then she said something about her having just taken one of the store’s employee classes on selling beer and decided the rules are too complicated.

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