Massachusetts task force may fall short of goal to create "21st century alcohol law"


Massachusetts recently formed a task force with the goal of creating "a 21st-century alcohol law" for the state. But according to a report by the Boston Globe, it looks like the 21st century may still allude the Bay State when it comes to booze:

"Key members of the state's alcohol industry are tempering expectations that a task force reviewing Massachusetts' booze laws will deliver sweeping reforms to how beer, wine, and spirits are sold and distributed in Massachusetts, saying it's more likely to result in modest tweaks.

The task force, charged by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg with creating 'a 21st-century alcohol law,' on Thursday issued a preliminary report identifying 12 issues, such as trade practices, licensing rules, and retail sales, that it intends to take on.

The list includes a number of highly controversial policy questions that have long divided businesses, health advocates, and policy makers.

Several alcohol-industry executives and lobbyists on committees advising the task force, however, sounded skeptical the effort can somehow solve these knotty, perennial disagreements. While more meetings are scheduled, they said they remain more or less entrenched in their existing positions..."

Read more here.

Philly's "soda tax" leads to increase in ... beer sales?

The Tax Foundation has a new report out chronicling how Philadelphia's recently enacted soda tax is "failing" from a public policy perspective. As a Wall Street Journal editorial notes, perhaps the most interesting side effect of the soda tax is that it is increasing demand for beer in the City of Brotherly Love: 

"This is no surprise to anyone who knows the iron economic law that when you tax something you get less of it. In this case that means fewer soda sales...

The oddest twist is the beer boon. Pennsylvania’s excise tax for beer is eight cents a gallon, but in Philadelphia the tax on the same unit of soda amounts to $1.92, including on diet drinks. That means low-cost beer has a slight price advantage over soda for the thirsty.

This is also no surprise given that a 2013 Cornell study, “From Coke to Coors,” examined a small-town soda tax and concluded that while long-term soft-drink consumption didn’t diminish, ale purchases increased. We’ll await a future report on whether these trends continue, but other cities might note that excise taxes don’t repeal the laws of economics..."

Read the rest of the editorial here (paywalled).

NY allows farm distilleries to sell other craft beverages

New York just passed a bill that will allow farm distilleries in the state to also sell beer, cider, and other NY craft beverages for on-site consumption. reports on the law change:

"Coming soon to a farm distillery near you: other New York craft beverages that you will be able to drink on site. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday to allow farm distilleries to sell New York beer, cider and wine for consumption at their facilities. The measure corrects a loophole that prevented farm distilleries from selling beers, ciders and wines. 

Farm breweries, cideries and wineries were allowed to sell other New York-labeled craft beverages for on-site consumption. 

With Cuomo's signature, the law will take effect immediately...."

Read more here


Colorado Alcohol Retailers Prepare for Grocery Stores Being Allowed to Sell Beer

Colorado recently pushed through reforms that will allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer over 3.2 percent starting in 2019 (and wine and spirits by 2037). The Coloradoan reports on reactions to and preparation for the coming change: 

"As Bullfrog Wine & Spirits general manager Josh Beard glances out of his office window, he notices three gas station convenience stores and one of Colorado’s largest grocery stores.

All four establishments in Beard’s periphery from the North Fort Collins liquor store will soon become Bullfrog’s competitors as Colorado’s alcohol laws are overhauled with the most significant changes since Prohibition.

The low-alcohol beer currently stocked at grocery and convenience stores across Colorado is scheduled to become extinct in 2019, when retailers currently capped at selling 3.2 percent alcohol beers will be allowed to sell full-strength beer and malt beverages like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice.

That means the state's approximately 1,600 liquor stores are expecting to see double the competition within two years..."

Read the rest here.

Pennsylvania liquor regulators planning to raise prices on 422 items

As covered last week on, Pennsylvania's liquor regulators have been threatening to raise the prices on booze in state liquor stores. Now they have identified 422 items that are schedule to receive a price increase, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"Pennsylvania’s system of state-owned liquor stores said Wednesday it will deploy its new authority to decide what prices to charge by increasing the cost of 422 items at the end of this month.

The Liquor Control Board said 393 of the increases will amount to $1 per bottle, and the vast majority will be less than 10 percent.

A 2016 state law gave the agency authority to raise prices for 150 of the top-selling brands of wine and the 150 most popular brands of spirits..."

Read the rest here

Lehigh Valley Live also ran a staff editorial condemning the price increases and calling for more privatization.

R Street's Cameron Smith on the Free to Brew Podcast Talking About Margarita Pitcher Bans

As covered extensively on, R Street's Cameron Smith led the recent charge in Alabama to reverse the state ABC's crackdown on margarita pitchers at restaurants within the state. The Free to Brew podcast invited Smith on as a guest to discuss the whole episode and how such alcohol reform successes can be duplicated in other states:

Joining the show is Cameron Smith general counsel and vice president of implementation for the R Street Institute, where he oversees how R Street implements and communicates the policy solutions its experts develop. He also handles a wide range of the institute’s legal matters...

Cameron explains how his team was able to, almost overnight, pressure the nannies in Alabama to reverse their decision and let consenting adults voluntarily purchase pitchers of Margaritas once again.

Also how we can replicate the success R Street is having!

Check out the podcast episode here.

Virginia's Silverback Distillery Decides to Expand into Pennsylvania Instead of Virginia

Virginia's Silverback Distillery, which opened its doors in 2014 and has gone on to win numerous international awards for its spirits, has decided to expand into neighboring Pennsylvania rather than its home state of Virginia. editor Jarrett Dieterle profiled Silverback's owners, Christine and Denver Riggleman, earlier this year on the legal and regulatory challenges they faced in Virginia. These barriers appear to have taken their toll, as the distillery has decided to seek friendlier legal climes, according to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

"Silverback Distillery in Afton is expanding into Pennsylvania, owner Christine Riggleman said Friday.

The announcement was made to employees Saturday afternoon.

The distillery, which opened in 2015, has done well for the short time it’s been open, according to Riggleman — snagging 14 international awards — but she said costly regulations from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control are leading the company to expand into another state.

 'Virginia laws are holding us back,' she said. 'Even though Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, the laws are a lot friendlier in terms of expanding, and you can keep more of your money, where Virginia takes more money from our bottle sales.'

Some of the production still will take place in its Afton facility, but Riggleman said some bourbon, whiskey, vodka and gin will be produced in Pennsylvania.

She and her husband, Denver, also hope to open a tasting room and hire between 14 and 17 new employees in Pennsylvania..."

Read the whole article here.

Jarrett's full profile of Silverback and the Rigglemans can be found here.


Ohio Tweaks Law to Allow Micro Distillers to Sell Directly to Bars

What would be routine in nearly any other industry constitutes a significant breakthrough when it comes booze. Ohio has reformed its liquor laws to allow micro distilleries in the state to sell their spirits directly to bars and restaurants, rather than being forced to work through the state-run wholesaling system. The Toledo Blade reports on the change:

It soon might become easier for Ohio’s micro distilleries to get their vodkas, gins and whiskeys on barroom shelves thanks to a change in state rules that will allow small-time distillers to sell products directly to pubs and restaurants.

That may not sound groundbreaking, but the process to get booze in the hands of a bartender is so ponderous that many producers didn’t even bother trying.

Under the Ohio’s strict liquor control rules, all distillers — no matter if they make 100 bottles a year or 100 bottles a minute — first had to ship their products to one of two state warehouses. The warehouse would send the bottles to a state liquor agency, where restaurateurs then could buy it wholesale.

'If we have a micro distillery in Cincinnati, they would have to deliver product to the Columbus warehouse just to have it come back to the Cincinnati market,' said Kerry Francis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce. 'This will eliminate that step.'..."

Read the rest here.


Wisconsin Legislator Introduces Bill to Reform State's Three-Tier System

According to The Cap Times, several Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced a bill that would reform the Badger State's three-tier alcohol distribution system by creating greater permitting flexibility and enacting other substantive changes:

"State Republican lawmakers say they want to restart a conversation about the state’s liquor laws by introducing a bill they say will remove barriers to business growth.

Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, on Tuesday filed a bill that he said aims to change a series of state liquor laws called the three-tier system. The system regulates how liquor, beer and wine are manufactured, distributed and sold in Wisconsin. For example, a business that makes alcohol cannot also distribute it. In addition, within the system, businesses that make the alcohol — brewers, wineries and distilleries — each have distinct rules they must follow.

Tauchen and his supporters, including Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, who owns a winery, say there needs to be more flexibility within that system.

The regulatory structure was originally intended to prevent monopolies, but small craft brewers and wineries — which often operate their own tasting rooms or brewpubs — say it now does the opposite. Zimmerman and Tauchen say a fundamental change in policy is needed..."

Read more about the proposed changes here.

Shipping Companies Crack Down on Wine Shipments

According to, UPS and FedEx are starting to more rigorously enforce state laws that restrict the shipment of wines to consumers:

"Bad news for wine lovers (and Wine-Searcher users) in most of the United States: your ability to order wine may be about to be diminished.

UPS and FedEx are cracking down on interstate shipping of wine, according to wine retailers, so that stores you have been ordering from may start saying "Sorry, but no."

'I've been selling online to 47 states. Now they're going to cut it down to 16 states,' Marwan Bisher, president of The Wine Connection in California told Wine-Searcher. 'It does take a bite out of business.'

The crackdown is not a new law; instead UPS and FedEx are enforcing existing laws in many states that have not been friendly to wine shipping, says Tom Wark, executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers..."

Read more here

This crackdown comes right at the moment direct-to-consumer wine shipping has become more popular than ever, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.