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Tag Archives: liquor laws

Winebits 382: Liquor reform edition

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liquor reformOntario does its duty: The Canadian province has made major changes in the way it sells beer, wine, and spirits, something that seemed hard to believe in a province with the Canadian equivalent of state stores. Nevertheless, liquor reform has come, and it will soon be possible to buy beer in a grocery store, buy wine online, and sleect from more interesting win in the province. And pricing will become more consumer friendly, with provincial officials vowing to negotiate better deals with producers. “The days of monopoly are done,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne. Which raises the question: If Ontario can do this, and it has been called one of the last bastions of Prohibition, why do we have such trouble reforming liquor laws in the U.S.?

Even in Texas: Sort of, anyway. The Texas Legislature is discussing whether to allow Walmart, Costco, Kroger and other publicly-held companies to open liquor stores in the state. Currently, only privately-held companies can get a license to do that, and there is even a provision in the law that forbids people who aren’t related from owning more than five stores. The Lege, as the late Molly Ivins so fondly called it, probably won’t change the law this session, but there is momentum to allow grocery stores to own liquor stores and it could happen sooner rather than later. Why they need to own liquor stores, rather than selling liquor in their existing stores, is a story for another time.

But probably not in Pennsylvania: The blog has covered liquor reform in Pennsylvania almost since its inception, and nothing ever seems to happen. That has not stopped liquor stores in Delaware, which borders Pennsylvania, from holding panicked meetings to demand reform in Delaware in case Pennsylvania actually changes its state store system. The Wine Curmudgeon has some advice for Delaware: “Chill, dude.” The day Pennsylvania gets rid of state stores is the the day I write an homage to 15 percent chardonnay.

Winebits 358: Goverment regulation edition

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government regulationSomeone has to keep an eye on this government regulation foolishness, because it really is getting out of hand — something to remember on election day.:

When is whiskey not really whiskey? When you’re in Tennessee, where the state legislature apparently has better things to do than worry about education, taxes, highways, and the rest of government. Instead, it will debate the definition of Tennessee whiskey,  Diageo, which owns George Dickel, and Brown-Forman, which owns Jack Daniels, are two of the biggest booze companies in the world. They’ve talked the legislature (no doubt using campaign cash) into setting limits on what Tennessee whiskey can be, and the current definition favors Brown-Forman. Not surprisingly, Diageo is aghast, and wants changes. It’s enough to make the Wine Curmudgeon boycott both brands, and I like Tennessee whiskey. I wonder: Will anyone in the legislature have the courage to stand up and tell both companies to go away and let the lawmakers worry about important stuff?

Yes, we sell sell beer (but not really): U.S. politicians and bureaucrats aren’t the only ones who are obsessed with this stuff; even the normally mild-mannered Canadians lose control. How else to explain this, from an advisory committee in the province of Ontario which says the province should not privatize its government-owned liquor stores — just change the way it sells beer. Consumers will be allowed to buy 12-packs in addition to six-packs. Be still, my beating heart. And, believe it or not, the same committee is debating electricity deregulation in the same mandate from the provincial government. How anyone thinks booze and power are alike in any way, and that the same decisions apply, is mind boggling. Unless, of course, you don’t want to deregulate liquor sales to begin with.

Ensuring a fair marketplace or hurting consumers? The New York State Liquor Authority has imposed more than $3 million in fines on distributors and retailers in the past three years in an attempt to eliminate sweetheart deals that allow some stores to get better treatment than others. This isn’t unusual in other businesses, where the best customers get the best deals, but it’s not supposed to happen in three-tier, which governs alcohol sales in the U.S. Three-tier says everyone has the same opportunity to buy the same products, regardless of size. Many retailers and distributors are furious about the fines and new rules, which strikes me as ironic — three-tier is protecting them from even more intense competition.

Winebits 340: When you think three-tier can’t get any more foolish, it does

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three-tier system

How does anyone make sense of these three-tier decisions without a crate of aspirin?

The Wine Curmudgeon always underestimates the silliness of the three-tier system — which governs alcohol sales in the U.S. — even though I have been writing about it for 20 years:

Only in Texas: What happens if you open a chain of liquor stores in the Lone Star State and run it successfully? You get sued — by other retailers who claim you’re violating state law. Like most three-tier stories, it’s terribly confusing, but the gist is this: Texas law says only state residents (for at least a year) can get a retail license to sell booze, but the law hasn’t been enforced in more than two decades. Total Wine, a Maryland chain that has opened six stores in the state, is being sued by the trade group that represents Texas liquor stores because Total isn’t a state resident. The trade group says that a recent Missouri case validated the residency requirement that Texas hasn’t enforced, and wants Total’s license revoked. Yes, I know, it makes my head hurt, too.

Cold beer? How dare you? A federal judge had told Indiana convenience stores and supermarkets that they can sell warm beer and cold wine, but not cold beer, reports Supermarket News — even though liquor stores can sell cold beer. His logic? That the state would have a more difficult time preventing beer sales to minors if c-stores and supermarkets sold cold beer. Apparently, minors don’t try to buy cold wine or warm beer at gas stations by asking their friend who works there to ring it up as motor oil. Still, before we start making too much fun of the judge, know this: His logic makes perfect sense given the legal underpinnings of the three-tier system, which allows each state to regulate liquor sales as it sees fit. If Indiana law says everything possible must be done to prevent underage drinking, and the state insists that grocery store cold beer sales will make this difficult, then the judge didn’t have much choice.

Beer at Oktoberfest? Not in Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has a soft spot in his heart for Utah’s liquor laws, because they have managed to retain their 19th-century Victorian charm in the 21st century. The latest? That the state’s liquor cops require an event be for “the common good” before they will grant a permit to sell alcohol for something like a festival or concert. And, since the Snowbird Ski Resort near Salt Lake City couldn’t demonstrate that its annual Oktoberfest was for the common good, it didn’t get a license to sell beer or wine. That the idea of “common good” — whatever that is — is not part of state law, but from rules written by the liquor cops, only makes this decision that much more charming.

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