Alcohol Regulation Roundup: September 2, 2011

I’m back from the West Coast with another (hoppier) edition of the Alcohol Regulation Roundup, a collection of stories about our nations constantly changing, sometimes angering, but always entertaining politics of booze.

Colorado: Once again Colorado beer lovers are pushing for “real beer” sales in grocery and convenience stores. Currently, the only “beer” that can be sold in grocery stores is 3.2 percent beer. Surprisingly, craft beer supporters are opposing the measure as they believe it will close “Mom and Pop” liquor shops leaving craft beer without any shelf space (they assume grocery stores will choose to stock only macro beer). I wrote about the folly of that logic in an article titled, “Small Brewers Big Mistake in Colorado.”

Maryland: State legislators are considering a change to Maryland’s liquor laws that would allow for “growler” sales in 2012. Growlers are re-usable jugs that customers bring into a brewpub or liquor store to have filled and then they can bring the contents home. In this case, licenses would be issued to restaurants with adjacent breweries.

New Jersey: A bill proposed in the legislature would revamp the rules governing brewpubs, which are restaurants that serve beer made on-premise. The bill would also rework laws regarding microbrewers, which produce beer primarily for off-premise sales, do not offer food, and have a smaller output than “macro” brewers whose products can be found throughout the country. The new law would raise the limits they would be allowed to produce and still be considered “small brewers.” For brewpubs the cap would be raised from 3,000 barrels a year to 10,000, and for microbreweries the limit would jump to 500,000 barrels where now they are limited to 300,000 barrels a year. The bill also allows microbreweries to open up to 10 salesrooms where customers would be able to buy directly from the brewer.

Oklahoma: Reports say the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce (GOCCC) is drafting legislation for the 2012 ballots that would allow wine and liquor grocery sales legal in the state. Unfortunately, a recent poll suggests that voters may not be supportive of such a measure.

Oregon: Having just returned from a hops-filled trip in Portland, I have firsthand knowledge that Beaver State residents know good beer. However, a 2010 interpretation of the state’s homebrew law banned home-brewers from offering their creations at the state fair. Senate Bill 444 rectified the situation and home brew was again on tap at the fair this week. The deep-fried twinkies were unaffected by the changes.

Pennsylvania: After four years in existence, a state liquor law was declared “unconstitutional.” Act 155 required retail store owners in Philadelphia selling liquor to apply for additional licenses each year if they wanted to continue selling takeout beer. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) enforced the law only against retail outlets. Judge James R. Kelley agreed with the Asian American Business Association of Philadelphia, which filed the suit, that the law was unconstitutional and furthermore that the City of Philadelphia gave itself power that was “far in excess of the state’s Liquor Code.”

Utah: It’s no secret that Utah has some pretty strict rules when it comes to alcohol. One such rule is the so-called “Zion curtain,” which requires bartenders in restaurants to mix drinks out-of-sight of customers. While the Zion curtain previously only applied to restaurants serving liquor a new rule requires restaurants serving beer — even if it just 3.2 beer — to be out of sight. And as a response to the public outcry from worried residents and restaurant owners, legislators can’t seem to answer how that new rule came to pass. Luckily, State Senator John Valentine decided to go on the “Radio from Hell” show to explain why the new rule is necessary. I say “luckily” because in his attempt to justify alcohol restrictions without using a moral argument, he provides nearly 15 minutes of frustratingly hilarious logic-bending that would make Cirque du Soleil performers jealous. To put it simply, he couldn’t provide a justification beyond the fact that religious residents of Utah want it that way and everyone else should just be glad that they aren’t completely banning alcohol. Audio of the infuriating interview can be found here.

Washington state: According to the Seattle Times, about 50 percent of voters in the state support Initiative 1183, which would privatize the liquor system and relax beer and wine sales laws, although it is less free-market-oriented than the initiative from last year, I-1100, which failed to get enough votes to pass.

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