State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Microbrewer says flap with PLCB highlights unreasonable rules

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 31, 2012 4:00 AM

A concern raised by Pennsylvania’s growing microbrewing industry illustrates a common clash between brewpubs and the state’s byzantine liquor laws. 

Kevin Finn said the call from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board came to his Iron Hill Brewery right around Memorial Day: Shut down your Mug Club immediately.

Finn’s business runs six brewery restaurants in southeastern Pennsylvania.  The “Mug Club” flagged by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has been part of his establishments for 15 years.  Members accumulate points for the purchase of food and alcohol – and there’s another big selling point.

“You drink out of a bigger mug,” said Finn.  He said the crackdown by the PLCB left his business scrambling to find a new way to reward loyal customers. 

But rules concerning mug clubs aren’t new, said PLCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.  They may be new to Iron Hill Brewery – Kriedeman said the agency’s review of Iron Hill’s Mug Club practices came at the behest of Iron Hill’s owners themselves.  “It can be a little challenging and a little daunting to go through the Liquor Code,” she said.

Certain mug clubs have long been illegal, because they could entice customers to buy more alcohol and offer discounts to only certain people.

“If you’re offering a Mug Club member 24 ounces for the same price that you would offer the general public a beer for 16 ounces, that is prohibited by the board’s regulations,” said Kriedeman.  “You are not allowed to have discount pricing.”  She said happy hour pricing is an example of a legal discount, because it’s available to all customers, but giving discounts only to people who buy a club membership isn’t allowed. 

Finn’s brewery has since changed its practices, and will roll out a new kind of loyalty program that rewards customers for purchasing food and non-alcoholic beverages only.  And there will be no larger mug for members. 

But at a recent hearing before the state House Liquor Control Committee, Finn criticized the rules, testifying on behalf of the Brewers of Pennsylvania guild.  He said such a policy against things like mug clubs “runs contrary to reasonable and current business practices.”

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