Pennsylvania might improve its dreadful drinks laws—a little

Source: Cartoon ©2012 Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News. 

If Rep. Jesse Topper has his way, Pennsylvania’s legislature will roll back its infamous stealth tax on drinks. Topper, a Republican representing the south-central Bedford, Franklin, and Mercer counties, has introduced H.R. 2263, which would repeal the “flexible pricing” authority given to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board in 2016.

Why is this good news? Well, the cheerfully named provision had the dreadful effect of enabling the state liquor officials to raise prices as they saw fit. The PLCB has a monopoly on the sale of spirits and a near monopoly on wine sales, so it can set prices without fear of price competition. And with the state legislature demanding the PCLB give it big chunks of revenue each year to fund government employees’ pensions and the like, the problem is obvious: flexible pricing is a stealth tax. Bureaucrats raise revenues for general government spending by elevating mark-ups paid by drinks consumers, sans legislative enactment. It is literally taxation without representation.

As my colleague Jarrett Dieterle has observed, “Retail liquor markups in control states usually are set as a percentage of the wholesale price of the liquor in question.” Topper’s bill proposes returning to Pennsylvania’s old fixed pricing scheme, which fixed the “mark-up” of a bottle of hooch or plonk at 31 percent. (To be clear, Keystone State consumers do not pay a price that is merely the wholesale price plus a 31 percent mark-up. Oh, no. They pay a price that also includes a 24 percent tax and a more than $1 a bottle fee. And some counties levy additional taxes.)

The old mark-up system, certainly, is not ideal—but it is less bad. Re-enstating it means politicians will find it a little harder to hide the true cost of government by keeping taxes artificially low and covering the difference by sticking drinks consumers with the bill.

And who knows, if the legislature can find the sense and courage to enact Topper’s bill maybe it one day also will have the gumption to abolish other bad drinks policies, like the law that forbids anyone from buying more than four bottles of wine at one retail shop per visit. And the rules that limit the sale of spirits to dreary government-run shops. And the regulations that force consumers to make consumers go to distributors instead of groceries for many beer purchases. And…

Kevin R. Kosar is the vice president of policy at the R Street Institute and the author of Whiskey: A Global History and Moonshine: A Global History. He is the editor and founder of AlcoholReviews.com and a contributor to The American Spectator’s Great American Saloon Series.

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Pink ale and other brews I’ve enjoyed recently

Source: AlcoholReviews.com

This past weekend, our glorious nation was awash in green beer. I meanwhile found myself tasting a pink ale. Before you judge—hear me out.

I was making my way through the grocery store, cart overflowing with jugs of milk, Goldfish crackers, string cheese, and all the fine eats a father of four could be expected to purchase. My three-year old was relentlessly pleading for me to get him a doughnut from the bakery. So. Much. Winning.

And there she was: a brunette rep for Old Ox Brewery of Virginia. Pouring samples. 

Admittedly, the bright pink color gave me pause, but I was desperate.

What a pleasant surprise. This saison ale (5% alcohol by volume) is dry and pleasant, and the cherry juice they used adds only a gentle fruity aroma. A treacly beer Old Ox Festivale Cherry Saison is not. I bought a four-pack of the 16-ounce cans.

Pink beer is not the only interesting beer I have stumbled on to recently. Bell’s Oarsman Ale was a pleasant surprise. I have enjoyed their stouts and hearty ales, and this “tart wheat beer” (4% ABV) is a peach that will be especially enjoyable once the mercury gets above 70 degree.

After reading so many doom and gloom predictions about Sam Adams’ future, it was nice to see the folks at Boston Beer Company bring out a new brew that is receiving acclaim. Sam ‘76 (4.7% ABV) is billed as a cross between lager and ale. I bought a 12-pack for $16, and enjoyed it so much that I nabbed another.

Speaking of well-known brands doing something different, Guinness offers a Rye Pale Ale. As best I can tell, folks either love it or hate it. This light-bodied beer (5% ABV) is a touch sour, herbal, and definitely shows the rye. Most peculiar!

Last among my recent beer-ventures is Grand Teton Brewing Company’s Double Vision Dopplebock. I’ve previously raved about other Grand Teton beers, but I tried not to set my hopes high before I took a sip of this brew. Which proved needless, because… Oh. My. Goodness. This potent, dark lager (8% ABV) from Montana floods the mouth with chocolate and coffee notes. The more Double Vision warms, the richer the flavors become.

Kevin R. Kosar is the author of Whiskey: A Global History and Moonshine: A Global History. He is the editor and founder of AlcoholReviews.com. This column also was published by the American Spectator.

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