On March 6, 2015, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s Office of Chief Counsel issued a legal advisory informing brewers that they may sell “original containers” to distributors as long as the container contains at least 128 fluid ounces. Those original containers may then be sold to consumers “as-is” by retail distributors. The opinion effectively permits beer distributors to sell 12-packs.
Since the repeal of prohibition, Pennsylvania retail beer distributors had only been able to sell beer by the case, quarter-keg, half-keg or keg. This new PLCB opinion marks an expansion of what distributors can do; however, retail distributors are still not permitted to sell any unit under 128 ounces, and they are not allowed to sell bottles individually or break up cases. Consumers can continue to find smaller quantities elsewhere; various retail licensees are permitted to sell individual bottles, six-packs, and 12-packs, for consumption off premises. Licensed delicatessens, licensed grocery stores, hotels and bars can sell essentially any size container from the individual bottle up to a 12 pack, provided that the beer sold in that individual transaction does not exceed 192 ounces (that’s a 12 pack of 16 ounce containers), although often at higher per-bottle or per-unit prices than would be found at a distributor. Additionally, while these licensed delicatessens, grocery stores, hotels and bars are limited in the amount they can sell in any one transaction, retail distributors can sell amounts to consumers that are not subject to these maximum-sale limitations.
The PLCB opinion is seen by most as a step toward providing greater consumer convenience. Authorizing 12-packs to be sold by beer distributors gives consumers more choice in making malt and brewed beverage purchase decisions. It gives distributors more options in their product lines and more options in marketing to customers. It should also provide a greater opportunity for breweries, including the many burgeoning Pennsylvania breweries, because their products will be available in smaller quantities at lower prices, thus encouraging the sampling of a larger variety of products.
12-packs (15-packs, or 18-packs) sold by distributors must be packaged as such by the manufacturer. Distributors and wholesalers are not permitted to divide up existing cases and sell portions separately. The beer and malt brewed beverages must be sold in their original packaging as intended.
Be on the lookout for smaller containers of malt and brewed beverages at your local beer distributor.
– J. Ken Butera