The Fun Police: When the Party’s Over…

Apparently, reality is slowly settling in on the Beer Police in Philadelphia.

For those coming late to the tale:

To one side, the suds uproar is borne out of typographical errors, hard-to-spell beer names and archaic, Prohibition-era liquor laws. To the other, it’s a simple matter of making sure bars and beer manufacturers aren’t scamming the system.

It all came to a head after an anonymous complaint that a Philadelphia bar was selling beer that had not been properly licensed with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, an agency created after Prohibition in 1933 to regulate the sale of alcohol.

Now, based on an “anonymous complaint” on an obscure aspect of Pennsylvania regulation, the Liquor Control Board unleashed the State Police, confiscating adult beverages based on what would appear, at first blush, to be a horribly flawed list of licensed beers.

Maida and her husband, Brendan Hartranft, don’t know who filed the complaint. They believe the problem largely results from archaic liquor laws and misunderstandings about formidable beer names that often get abbreviated.

The liquor code, they say, is no match for beers with names like Dogfish Head Raison d’etre and a dark ale called ‘t smisje BBBorgoundier. The rigid code also isn’t able to account for when they abbreviate Allagash White Beer to “Allagash Wit” on their menus.

At one bar, Maida had a beer listed as “de dolle Oebier gran reserva;” the beer itself was “de dolle oerbier,” but the police had it spelled as “de rolle oebier,” she said.

“The laws were really developed before there were so many kinds of beers,” she said.

Pennsylvania has some of the strictest liquor laws in the country, funneling the sale of wine and spirits through state-run liquor stores and regulating the sale of beer mostly through the state’s approximately 1,100 licensed distributorships.

So, given a near state monopoly over alcohol sales, a less than accurate list and a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to enforcement based on an anonymous tipster with surprising knowledge of both state regulation and, presumably, the list of licensed beers, what do we have?

Well, I’d call it abuse of power, but, as a minimum, it would seem to be at least eff on the state’s face.

Maj. John Lutz, director of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said police are working with the board to try to figure out which of the recently seized beers are registered.

So far, 72 of the 317 bottles seized were being returned after police determined they were registered, Lutz said. No charges have been filed in the ongoing investigation.

“We’re trying to sort out the whole labeling issue,” Lutz said. “Anything that was just a spelling mistake, hopefully we’ve caught.”

In other words, “Oops.”

Major Lutz was silent on whether or not the State Police were best utilized in this snipe hunt as opposed to, say, addressing Philadelphia’s murder rate.  But I guess catching murders doesn’t generate revenue for the state.