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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Recap: What Happened in Philadelphia

As most readers of this blog know, I spent Friday going to Philadelphia to discover what happens to beer coming to the East Coast, notably Russian River Brewing Company's brews and their final resting place, Monk's Cafe. Simple answer: they are dealt with by Pennsylvania's alcohol control laws or Blue Laws.

Now, before I get much further, lets have a brief explanation of what is a Blue Law. A Blue Law is a very old law that has it founding in the Puritanical laws of the country. That is right, these are laws that in some cases are older that the formal founding of the states. They go right back to the colonial period when these states were actually properties of the Crown. The further north you go, the older the bodies of Puritanical law. I think that Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania as well as Virginia have the oldest bodies of law. These bodies of law are rather hilarious and usually do not apply, but when it comes to alcohol, it becomes a different story.

Since most of the laws that deal with alcohol are state laws, with fewer federal statutes, we have to pay attention very close to state laws. This is where to Blue Laws have their impact because they were issues governed state by state, or in some cases, colony by colony.  In the cases of Pennsylvania, an original of the Thirteen Colonies, Blue Laws have a foundational effect, especially in terms of who can possess and sell alcohol. This is the case with the Russian River Brewing Company and Monk's Cafe.

Because Monk's Cafe is a Pennsylvania institution it is held to Pennsylvania standards for a brewing establishment. It is governed by a different body of law than the Russian River Brewing Company, which is a California company. Pennsylvania brewing institutions have really bizarre standards when it comes to what you can sell and to whom. In Virginia, you can sell beer and wine to an individual (not hard liquor) and in pretty much in any given quantity. Not Pennsylvania. You can not sell individual containers of beer, wine or hard liquor. You have to sell them in groups and those groupings are pretty high. Period. In other Pennsylvania counties, I have seen them stipulate a twelve beverage minimum purchase.  If no one stocks a twelve bottle minimum, no one can sell it. You can order a single bottle is a store and you can drink it in the store, but the minimum order outside of the store makes it high enough to make it not so doable. At least not that a bar keep is willing to keep on hand.

Monk's Cafe - Philadelphia, PA
So, when you go into Monk's Cafe and request a bottle of Russian River Brewing Company beverage, they have to say "no"  because they do not carry that much. Applies even in the bar, where they do have Russian River's gold standard "Pliny the Elder." Not for sale. So, when faced with this problem, I said that I would take a single bottle and drink it. It was good, REALLY good, so I satisfied the law, but there was no way I could deal with the outside law. Kind of silly, but that is the way that have dealt with it.

Monk's Cafe - Philadelphia, PA
Now, this begs the question: is it fair? As a native Californian (Go Bears!) and even as a Virginian, I have to say "no." We have come a long way since the Puritans and the Blue Laws and it does not seem fair to hold alcohol any longer in its grip. However, this is woven into the fabric of certain states, Pennsylvania being one of them, and they are not likely to walk away from it. It is also a significant source of revenue for the states and even in Virginia, when they talk about changing the revenue stream surrounding alcohol, people take notice. In the short term, there won't be a switch to the alcohol system, but in the long term, there has got to be.

And how about Russian River Brewing Company and Monk's Cafe? Well, Monk's Cafe will keep selling Russian River, they have a good relationship and everyone is all smiles, and I will keep going up to order it. Pennsylvania is on my list of places to go for beer, even if it is a little weird.

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