As, of course, have efforts in general to get Pennsylvania out of the liquor business.
The most recent push to put the state stores to bed has taken place over the last three years. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett actually campaigned on the issue—which is something only a Republican governor can do today, given the political strength of the UFBW Local 1776 that represents the state liquor employees. Corbett’s efforts, though, like those of numerous governors before him, has been lots of bluster, very little bite.
Yes, the issue is popular with voters. But arguments for changing the system—to, say, allow private ownership of liquor stores, allow beer to be sold in all convenience stores and grocery markets, and give Pennsylvanians more beer specials at their favorite watering holes—has never gotten the sort of traction that brings together majorities in both the state House and Senate at the same time as in the executive branch of the state government.
And it’s not just because God hates us. That liquor store clerks get paid well and are trained according to state standards—honestly, that’s a big deal. It’s hard to be the guy to literally take a living wage away from thousands of state workers, even if Governor Corbett has generally managed during his tenure to make that kind of austerity-based slash-and-burn look like he’s having a blast.
The fact that Pennsylvania is able to buy all its liquor wholesale has largely kept the prices of our alcohol low, too—which we’d really be able to see if the state were ever to remove that “temporary” flood tax. Which, well, doesn’t seem likely.
All that said, there’s another silver lining here.
According to Mark Noon’s book Yuengling: A History of American’s Oldest Brewery, those controversial laws are partially responsible for Yuengling’s success and, perhaps, its ability to exist as the largest American-owned brewery in the United States. See, open-market beer sales in other states have helped create an atmosphere where the cheapest, most watered-down swill has sold the best. You see it in places like Wal-Mart, where, in other states, Coors, Miller and Bud cases can be found in gigantic stacks with large, handprinted signs reading “$19.99.” Not so with Yuengling. Heck, thanks to newly revised standards at the Brewers Association, next year Yuengling will officially be designated as a “craft” beer.
With the craft market as strong as it is today—and Philly deemed “America’s Greatest Beer Drinking City,” at least by Philadelphians—you could make the argument that Yuengling exists as the powerhouse that it is today specifically because of those laws. So thanks for that, at least, Gifford Pinchot: You helped a Pennsylvania brewery conquer the nation. Not bad for a dry guy.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide