Pennsylvania's Antiquated Liquor Code is a Work in Progress and the Signs are Good

Tim Russell, the publisher of Craft Pittsburgh, a magazine focused on the local craft beer industry, sees signs in new and proposed state laws that the laws regulating the industry are heading in the right direction, albeit slowly.

Are the times really changing? Is Pennsylvania finally beginning to emerge from the dark ages?

One of any Pennsylvanian’s biggest gripes has been in regard to the state’s archaic liquor code, created just after the abolition of Prohibition, and rarely amended since. House Bill 242—the biggest alteration in modern history to the state’s liquor code—was to change this.

After being passed by both the House and Senate, then signed off on by Governor Corbett, HB 242 addressed certain concerns regarding what some saw as pointless limitations on state liquor laws.

Breweries within the state are now permitted to sell beer in any size packaging directly to the consumer. Previously, a brewer was only permitted to sell kegs to the public, the smallest of which qualified as a 64 oz. “growler.”

A licensed restaurant or pub that sells food before 11 a.m. on Sunday is now permitted to start selling alcohol at 9 a.m., basically wiping a former “blue law” off the books.

A consumer can now purchase liquor at retail directly from a distillery instead of just a state-owned liquor store.

What’s great about this law change is that it seems to cover the interests of a licensee at just about every level. Brewpubs are now allowed to sell their beer for consumption at an off-site event for which they are catering. Beer distributors, previously limited to selling only cases of beer and snacks, are now allowed to sell beer-related periodicals and homebrewing equipment and supplies. They can also now open up at 9 a.m. on Sunday with a special permit.

Additional freedoms were also provided to state wineries, golf courses, and even places like the zoo. Under the current regulations,the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium would be able to obtain a liquor license for on-site sales.

Other areas added further restrictions, including a regulation that prevents any law enforcement agent, whether a police officer, state or municipal attorney, or judge, from owning any interest in a liquor-licensed establishment.

But probably the biggest signal of change coming from legislators is state Resolution No. 216, introduced in October of 2011.

This resolution directs “the legislative budget and finance committee to conduct an economic impact study of the brewery industry” in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It also specifically notes the contributions made by the numerous breweries of PA, not only to the local economy, but also their philanthropic and civic endeavors.

The resolution directs the budget and finance committee to help legislators understand the brewery industry by explaining its three-tier system, its current impact on the economy and tourism—as well as its impact to other industries within the Commonwealth—and the identification of any further changes to the current liquor code that “will continue to promote the growth of the brewery industry in the Commonwealth.” 

One fault that I see in this new resolution is what was previously—and  explicitly—directed within the budget and finance committee, to define the liquor code and its administration in layman’s terms, which assists those outside of the industry (and I’m sure some within) to understand the issues and challenges faced by those who have to work under the current framework.

This section was removed entirely from the current version, amended this past January.

Though few may ever fully understand the labyrinth of our state’s liquor code, the changes coming through are encouraging signs; the state is finally beginning to recognize the benefits of having a strong brewing industry.

Even though faults remain, it shows initiative on the part of legislators and that things are progressing in a great direction for our craft beer community.


Tim Russell

—Tim Russell is the publisher of Craft Pittsburgh, a quarterly magazine about the local craft beer industry, where this column originally published. Follow @CraftPittsburgh on Twitter and pick up (free) copies of the magazine at and beer distributors along McKnight Road.

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