House Bill 1196 – Bottles and Growlers Available at Beer Distributors?

October 25, 2016
Aaron K. Zeamer

On Monday, the Pennsylvania State Senate approved amendments to House Bill 1196 which the legislature has identified as a “fix” to the recent and expansive liquor reform law known as “Act 39”.  There has been much written about Act 39 and its expansion of the liquor laws; however, one organization or group of businesses that felt they were left out of that reform was the malt beverage distributors in Pennsylvania.

The Senate, in an attempt to address some of the concerns of the distributors in Pennsylvania, have now approved a bill which would allow distributors to sell beer in any quantity, to include by the single bottle, can, or even by the refillable growler.  While none of this can be done for on-premises consumption, it nonetheless allows beer distributors to compete with restaurants who sell beer to-go, grocery stores, convenience stores, and anyone else that is able to sell beer in smaller quantities.  For years, beer distributors were forced to sell beer by the case only, or in whatever form of “original packaging” was made by the manufacturer of the product.  Last year, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reversed its long-standing position and agreed to permit beer distributors to sell its products in packaging which contain no less than 12 bottles or cans.  This was seen as significant reform for the distributors at the time and most, if not all, now carry significant quantities of 12-packs.

The current bill goes much farther than that and allows them to sell individual bottles, cans, and even have beer on tap for sale as a growler.  Where this bill goes from here remains to be seen.  There are only two days left in the current legislative session for the rest of the year.  If this bill does not get passed by the House in that time and signed by the Governor before the end of the year, then the bill would have to be reintroduced and start anew next year.  So do not yet plan on seeing individual bottles or cans at your local beer distributors but, as with all of the liquor reform that has been recurring in this state, it appears the legislature is set on further expanding the parameters for businesses to sell and compete within the beer, wine, and liquor industries in Pennsylvania.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.