Busted!

Philadelphia cops bust taverns for ‘illegal’ beer

More than a dozen armed State Police officers conducted simultaneous raids last week on three popular Philadelphia bars known for their wide beer selections. The cops confiscated hundreds of bottles of craft beers, now in State Police custody at an undisclosed location.

The alleged offense: Although the bar owners had bought the beer legally from licensed Pennsylvania distributors and had paid all the necessary taxes, the police claimed that nobody had registered the precise names of the beers with the state Liquor Control Board – a process that requires the brewers or their importers to pay a $75 registration fee for each product they want to sell in Pennsylvania.

Based on a complaint from someone the State Police refuse to identify, three teams of officers converged last Thursday on three bars. Checking their inventories against the state’s official list of more than 2,800 brands, the cops seized four kegs and 317 bottles.

According to some sources, more than half the beer removed by the State Police was properly registered – but the cops couldn’t find it on their lists because of “clerical errors” or “blatant ineptitude” between the police and the Liquor Control Board, with whom the officers were conferring by telephone.

One example given was Duvel, an import from Belgium that is widely advertised and available in at least 200 bars throughout the city and suburbs. The beer appears on the PLCB list as “Duvel Beer,” while its label reads “Duvel Belgian Golden Ale.”

State Police Sgt. William N. La Torre, commanding officer of the Philadelphia office of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said that he was not aware of any beers that had been mistakenly confiscated.

Comments

  1. DesertWort says

    If that’s what they do to the bar, one only wonders how hard they came down on the distributors who distribute such nefarious wares.

  2. samhuff says

    So there are only 3 bars in Philly and they are owned by the same people?

    No other bars in Philly served these “illegal” beers? Sounds like the AB Dist was getting upset his sales margin went down.

  3. jazzmac says

    We all have to deal with state liquor boards, so we know there I’d no way they figured this out by themselves, someone definately reported the bars in question (another bar?)

    That being said, I know I make sure all of my products are registered in every state we distribute in. I don’t want the hassle if they aren’t. This should be the domain of the distros but most of these have such large books, things are bound to fall through the cracks. CT has incredibly archaic laws ($250 per out of state label!), but it’s something you have to deal with. Whose at fault here, the distro or the breweries?

  4. Moonlight says

    Why wouldn’t these laws constitute illegal restraint of interstate trade? If they discriminate against out of state businesses, I think the laws would have to be tossed.

  5. jazzmac says

    Moonlight wrote: Why wouldn’t these laws constitute illegal restraint of interstate trade? If they discriminate against out of state businesses, I think the laws would have to be tossed.

    Well, I’m not going to be the guy to start complaining. Fly under the radar, pay your taxes on time. TTB and liquor control won’t bother you.

  6. Ted Briggs says

    Theres definatly something fishy here behind the story, evidenced by athourites refusing to say who the complantant is. Its more than pay your tax and youll be ok- there was definatly malice on the part of the PLCB, along with standard goverment incompetence.
    I can tell you im on a list serve for philly homebrewers, I worked in the area for some time, and the beer community at large is disgusted by thier goverments actions.
    Philly is a Great beer town and will continue to be though!

    http://www.philly.com/philly/restaurants/beer/20100308_Troopers_raid_popular_bars_for_unlicensed_beers__Dozens_of_gallons_seized_after__citizen_complaint_.html

  7. sdgbrew says

    What about special beer that would have been registered when it was bought but has since “expired” due to the brewery not making it anymore? Is that a possibility as well? There are many bars that now hold back beer to serve at a much later date…

  8. jazzmac says

    Ted Briggs wrote: Theres definatly something fishy here behind the story, evidenced by athourites refusing to say who the complantant is. Its more than pay your tax and youll be ok- there was definatly malice on the part of the PLCB, along with standard goverment incompetence.
    I can tell you im on a list serve for philly homebrewers, I worked in the area for some time, and the beer community at large is disgusted by thier goverments actions.
    Philly is a Great beer town and will continue to be though!

    http://www.philly.com/philly/restaurants/beer/20100308_Troopers_raid_popular_bars_for_unlicensed_beers__Dozens_of_gallons_seized_after__citizen_complaint_.html

    Someone had to report the bars in question, there is no way PLCB would have known about it otherwise. Another bar, competing distro?

  9. Scott M says

    Moonlight wrote: Why wouldn’t these laws constitute illegal restraint of interstate trade? If they discriminate against out of state businesses, I think the laws would have to be tossed.

    My thoughts exactly, restriction of interstate trade! Is there still an interstate trade commission or is it now a commissar?

  10. KevinECB says

    i have a reoccuring nightmare about Prohibition, when i first read this it brought to mind my nightmare and i was apalled…stepped back cooled down, and begin to think more logically about it.

    this is definitely a case of over amped aggression by the part of law enforcement, and quite possibly a case of some envious, angry, or disgruntled person (be it former employee, rival in the market etc. etc. but finger pointing will do nothing at all to help the situation) it is unfortunate, but the owner should have seen it coming. they can’t really feign ignorance to the law, its a really well known law and they broke it.

    what we do have here is an opportunity to plug some legal holes or try to rework PA law on the matter.
    here are the things ive noted.
    one of the things the owner claims is, the cops were specifically looking for pliny the younger. which was on the register and now isn’t…
    How is a beer brand removed from the register?
    When a beer is removed what is the legal stipulation on aging beer of that label?
    I’m sure it would not be hard to find illegally unregistered wine at country clubs and fancy restaurants with cellars with 50 year old wine.
    how does one add a beer to the register?
    who can do that?
    is there maybe a way for a law to be in place that would allow for unregistered beer to be taxed and then sold?

    if i lived in PA i would write my congressman, and try to contact the PA Brewer’s Guild as they might be able or willing to support legal change on this matter.

  11. SRB says

    KevinECB wrote: ….the cops were specifically looking for pliny the younger….

    I’ll bet they were…Im looking for some too :p

  12. beerbuff says

    What I don’t get is why the retailer are the ones being punished, they say they bought the beer from a PA distributor, shouldn’t it be the distributor and not the retailers responsibility to make sure the beer is registered with the state?

  13. beerking1 says

    KevinECB wrote:
    one of the things the owner claims is, the cops were specifically looking for pliny the younger. which was on the register and now isn’t…
    How is a beer brand removed from the register?
    When a beer is removed what is the legal stipulation on aging beer of that label?
    I’m sure it would not be hard to find illegally unregistered wine at country clubs and fancy restaurants with cellars with 50 year old wine.
    how does one add a beer to the register?
    who can do that?

    The brewer has to register his brand for distribution in PA. registration costs $75 per year, so presumably registration lasts one year. If the brewer is no longer making the brand, or no longer distributing the brand to PA, there is no reason they would consider registering again.

    As has been stated earlier, it seems ridiculous to hold the retailer responsible for actions he is not allowed to participate in. In addition, as has also been stated, what do you do about beer that is intended to be aged, but “falls off” the list before you are ready to serve it.

    Bottom line: PA alcohol laws are ridiculous and grossly out of date.