12-Packs May Now Be Available At Beer Distributors

March 6, 2015
Aaron K. Zeamer

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, through its counsel, issued an advisory opinion this afternoon appearing to clear the way to allow beer distributors to sell 12-packs of beer.  This ruling is completely separate from any of the recent modernization or privatization movements which have been discussed by the governor and the legislature.

The opinion closely scrutinizes the language of the Liquor Code and the regulations which define what can be sold by or to distributors.  Distributors in Pennsylvania may sell malt or brewed beverages which are in a “case” or they must be in “original containers” of at least 128 ounces.  Until now, the PLCB was never asked to clarify what constitutes an “original container”.  In its advisory opinion, the PLCB takes the position that an original container could include a 12-pack of beer, provided that the 12-pack is how the manufacturer of the alcohol originally packaged it.

This opinion sets the stage for breweries and other manufacturers to package their product in 12-packs which could now be sold through a distributor.  I would expect to see that local breweries will quickly start to alter their packaging so that they can provide to distributors “original containers” of 12-packs and we have seen that most large manufacturers such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors already package and sell their product in 12-packs.  They may have to alter slightly the manner in which they ship and sell these 12-packs, but it appears that we will soon see even the national brands in 12-packs on the shelves of our local beer distributors.

This ruling also may have an interesting impact on the modernization and privatization discussions that continue to occur in Pennsylvania.  Distributors have expressed significant concern that allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol unfairly competes with their business.  This ruling, however, appears to give the distributors some ability to now compete with these grocery stores and sell smaller quantities of alcohol in the form of a 12-pack.  Whether this opinion helps to move the modernization/privatization movement remains to be seen.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Business Law and Liquor License matters.