This blog tends to focus on the Washington beer scene. No news there. Today I want to share some information from beyond our borders. Two of the stories are about states (Oklahoma and Iowa) where craft beer enthusiasts still face challenges we can only imagine. The third story is about a state (Pennsylvania) facing challenges that sound all too familiar—outdated liquor laws and the problem of justly enforcing those laws.
Beer is a “bad drug”
Yes, it is the year 2010, but in Oklahoma they are just now considering a bill that would allow people to brew beer at home. In the rest of the world, we call it home brewing. In Oklahoma, they still call it a crime. Oklahoma H.B. 2348 recently passed the state House by a vote of 76-19. Although that’s a strong majority, check out the kind of opposition Oklahoma’s home brewers are up against.
“What’s next?” asked Representative Todd Russ (Republican, Cordell, OK), “California has marijuana legalized. We complain that people are making drugs in their houses right now and yet we’re going to go and pass a bill that says this [home brew] is not a bad drug.”
Russ said he is also worried that legalizing home brewing could lead to more alcohol problems by allowing what he called, “More of an access to the citizens of this alcoholic beverage.”
I’m not even sure what that means, but he said it on record.
Representative Russ told his fellow House members to think twice before voting to pass this law. He warned, “If you go to church Sunday remember how you voted today.”
Seriously. He said that. I’m not making this up.
The bill is now in the hands of the Oklahoma Senate. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope that they pass this bill and give people the right to make beer at home without fear of incarceration.
Back when Green Death was the only ale
In Iowa, they just passed a law allowing in-state breweries to produce beer that is above 5 percent ABV. Out-of-state breweries were allowed to sell stronger beers in Iowa, but in-state breweries were not allowed to make it. (Similarly, here in Washington, law requires that your car have windshield wipers, but there is no law requiring that your car actually have a windshield.) According to Beer Advocate magazine, Olde Main Brewing Company intends to make an Imperial IPA to celebrate this revelation.
I am just barely old enough to remember a time in Washington when stronger beers had to be sold in the liquor stores. As I recall, the stronger beer line was drawn at 5 percent ABV here as well. Of course, back then “stronger beer” pretty much meant Rainier Ale (green death), Country Club Malt Liquor (remember the little 8 oz cans?), and Olde English 800 (the real stuff, not the 7-Eleven kind). I think it was around 1982 that the laws were changed. Whatever the case, our brewers have always been allowed to make it.
Imagine if our Washington brewers were not allowed to make anything over 5 percent ABV. I get a headache in my eye just thinking about it.
It’s the same the whole world over
Last month, officers with Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement raided a number of establishments in Philadelphia—including Local 44, Resurrection Ale House, the Memphis Taproom, and Origlio Beverage. The officers were not looking for underage drinkers or over-serving bartenders, they were searching for unregistered (illegal) beer. They confiscated 300 bottles and three kegs of beer because they said the beers had not been registered, as required by the liquor code.
Let’s be clear, according to Pennsylvania law it is the legal duty of the importers, brewers and distributors to make sure that the beer is properly registered before it gets out to any retail locations.
The first problem: Much of the beer confiscated was registered. It was legal. Sadly, the names on the list of registered beers did not always match up with the names on the bottles or kegs—a stupid but understandable bureaucratic snaffoo. For example, reports say that agents confiscated bottles of Duvel Belgian Golden Ale, which was registered as Duvel Beer. How embarrassing.
The second problem: The raids were carried out by armed agents. Imagine you are sitting at Brouwer’s enjoying a pint when suddenly four guys wearing flack jackets come barging in with shotguns. Sounds like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino flick, not a night at the neighborhood pub.
This unfortunate chain of events has so poignantly illustrated the need to update liquor laws that Pennsylvania’s congress is conducting hearings on the matter. Local newspapers are referring to it as “Beergate.”
In those hearings, Philadelphia Republican Rep. John Taylor went for the throat when questioning the chief of the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. Taylor expressed support for the state police but said, “In this one, you and your [men] were wrong… they knew when they were going in there that they did not need four armed agents. A teenager with a clipboard could have done what they did.”
The congressman referred to the bust as “an over-use of force,” and said, “Those of us from Philadelphia have plenty of [other things] for you to do.”
The Liquor Control Board and the Pennsylvania lawmakers have now committed to updating regulations and changing practices to get the retailers out of the process.
Philadelphia is the birthplace of the American revolution, so maybe they’re accustomed to such hysterics in the city of brotherly love. We’re much more mellow out here on the left coast. Let’s hope that here in Washington we can realize the dream of revised liquor control regulations without such drama.