Every week, it seems, we have to tackle new and complicated beer issue involving the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. While most of the beer-related hubbub involving the PLCB of late has focused on sixpack sales in supermarkets and beer distributors, this week we have to peel back the many layers involved in a raid on three Philadelphia craft beer bars on the eve of Philly Beer Weekend. What lies inside of the tear-inducing, stinky and generally unwelcome onion? A thorny thicket of bureaucracy, liquor laws so difficult to decipher that even the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement - the division of the state police charged their enforcement - seems addled by them and, of course, the internet plays a part.
Last Thursday, Local 44, Memphis Taproom and Resurrection Ale House, all owned by Leigh Maida and Brendan Hartranft, were raided for selling "unregistered" beers. Beers sold in Pennsylvania must be registered through the state; they appear on this list. The brewer or importer is actually responsible for making sure the beers are registered; however, the seller, as we know now, can also be penalized for selling them.
Maida sent out this email last Friday with her version of what happened during raids on her three bars on Thursday.
You may or may not know by now that the PLCB started an investigation against because someone called in a complaint that we are serving beers that are not registered in PA. We have been going through the list of what was confiscated with our lawyers (and the lawyers of our major distributors) today and we are finding out that some pretty popular beers (widely poured around the city) may in fact, not registered be for sale in PA. As the day progresses, more of the list might prove to be unregistered, or more of it cleared up as bureaucratic mistakes, but for now it's just few, and i think rather than inviting a lawsuit against ME for spreading untruths, I'd rather just let that part of the situation work itself out without using brand names.
Yesterday all three bars were visited by teams of State Police, armed with a list of "un-registered" beers (and guns!).
The beers that were on the "un-registered" list that they came looking for are some really commonly poured beers (some local, some regional) as well as some harder to get Belgian, English and German beers. How these particular beers got on that "to confiscate" list? Not sure. I blame the woeful incompetence of the PLBC itself, but that's just a personal opinion.
Again, until the lawyers are all done pouring over the lists and double checking things, I might prefer to not list out for you what of our inventory was confiscated. Some of it would make you laugh though. Something interesting to point out, some of what they confiscated at one location, they left alone at another. Some of what they took is listed plain as day on the PLCB list of registered beers, which, if you haven't made yourself familiar with it, is located here:
The State Police hold it for the duration of the investigation, and when it comes out that this is all mostly BS, we'll get it back (hopefully unharmed). This could take 2 weeks or 6 months. Who knows. Every beer distributor with a beer on the confiscated list has been in touch with their PLCB contacts on our behalf, so hopefully that will speed things along.
Personally, two of my many concerns during all of this has been that our employees and guests might now feel like we're up to something shady (we're not, swearsies) and, well, perhaps obviously, that there's someone out there with enough of a grudge against us that things took this course. My goal is to make this whole experience as un-drama-filled as possible. Our bottle lists haven't been depleted all that severely, though there are a few favorites that we'll just consider 86'd for a little while.
The Daily News dug deeper over the weekend and claims that many of the beers seized by the State Police as "unregistered" actually are registered - including popular Belgian beer Duvel and Monk's Sour Ale - and served at bars throughout the city. Will they all now be raided as well?
Now if you really want your head to explode with inside baseball, consider this: what citizen is concerned enough to call something like this in? Most "regular folk" - meaning people who aren't in the beer industry in some capacity or hardcore beer nerds or hardcore liquor law nerds - don't even know about this obscure facet of the liquor law. A concerned citizen might call in a tip on a bar that's serving minors, or selling drugs or selling Faker's Mark or engaging in some other illegal activity that actually has an effect on the surroundings or the consumer, but selling unregistered Pliny the Younger? Only an insider would even know to call that in. It has a whiff of vendetta about it.
Interestingly, a year-old thread on the grotty Philadelphia Speaks forum involved a commenter who complained about this exact "unregistered" issue involving Memphis Taproom. The thread has been removed, but one page is still visible through the magic of google cache.