Liquor Control Board price jump draws backlash

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s decision to announce an across-the-board 4% price increase to go into effect Jan. 15 on 3,500-plus items in state stores is being criticized, citing questionable timing and lack of transparency.

In a press release, Andy Deloney, senior vice president and head of state public policy for the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., said:

“Ten days is not nearly enough time for spirits producers to plan for and adjust to price increases. This last-minute push by an outgoing administration will have implications not only for spirits producers, but for the Pennsylvania hospitality industry and its consumers. These decisions should be part of a larger discussion with impacted stakeholders, yet this across-the-board increase was done without any consultation or collaboration.

“We are extremely disappointed in the process by which this increase was determined and hope the PLCB will adjust future plans to include consideration of the partners most heavily impacted by their unilateral decision-making.”

Deloney noted that “Pennsylvania consumers have long traveled to bordering states with more favorable markets for spirits products. Increasing prices only exacerbates cross-border sales and continues to drive consumers elsewhere.”

PLCB spokesman Shawn Kelly had called the move “a fair, consistent, across-the-board increase.” He said it will allow the Liquor Control Board to generate revenues needed to offset annual 8% increases in operating costs over the last four years, and projected cost increases in the current year related to personnel, distribution, leases, credit card fees, etc.

In a response to the Distilled Spirit Council’s criticism, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Chairman Tim Holden, on behalf of the board including members Mary Isenhour and Randy Vulakovich, issued the following statement:

“DISCUS’s objection to the PLCB’s January price increases is surprising at best, disingenuous at worst. Every single one of the 14 DISCUS director members from which the PLCB buys product increased costs and retail prices within the last two years without PLCB input. Also, since the January price increases were announced, a number of DISCUS members have approached the PLCB about additional cost increases, disappointed that they didn’t get a ‘cut’ of the planned PLCB increases.”

Joe Massaro, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, also weighed in, calling the “unexpected decision” to raise prices “disappointing.”

“Despite liquor licensees representing nearly 30 percent of the PLCB’s product sales, many feel as if they are not treated as the wholesale partners they truly are. Licensees do not have the luxury of shopping around for better prices on alcohol product, since the PLCB monopolizes the market, which is why PRLA continues to advocate for an increase to the wholesale discount.

“We appreciate those legislative champions who have contacted the PLCB with concerns about this increase and hope the General Assembly will consider acting quickly to help mitigate the impact of this decision on our still vulnerable restaurants and bars.”

State Sen. Mike Regan (R-31, Cumberland and York counties) had released a letter prior to the Liquor Control Board’s announcement, asking that the price increase be removed from the board’s meeting agenda.

The State Senate Law and Justice Committee chairman, Regan called it “an arbitrary decision by your executives to impose an additional 4% tax on these popular products, bringing the total tax to nearly 30%.”

“I am very troubled by the lack of transparency and timing of the announcement,” he continued, noting the Wolf administration ends Jan. 17. “Imposing a last-minute, additional liquor tax on Pennsylvania consumers, in the waning hours of an administration, undermines the public’s faith in government and is bad public policy.”

Regan said lack of transparency “has continued to be a concern I have voiced to the board. During my time as both chairman and a sitting member of the committee, the board has lacked transparency in situations such as closing state stores and rationing products. … Any decision on additional liquor taxes should be left to the new administration and the Legislature, which Pennsylvania’s Constitution vests sole power to levy taxes.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

PLCB says liquor sales returning to pre-pandemic normal

Liquor sales were down slightly for Fiscal Year 2021-2022, but the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is saying that might just be a sign that sales were returning to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown 

The PLCB released its Fiscal Year 2021-22 Annual Report on Wednesday. It showed retail dollar sales of $2.12 billion. 

That’s a decrease of 3.4% over the prior year, but it shows more normal, pre-pandemic shopping patterns with retail comprising approximately 75% of total agency dollar sales and licensee sales of $704.2 million accounting for the remainder. 

E-commerce sales in fiscal year 2021-22, meanwhile, totaled $13.5 million, a 19.2% decrease compared to the prior year.  

The PLCB said e-commerce sales have decreased since Fiscal Year 2019-2020. That’s when FWGS.com experienced unprecedented growth due to COVID-19 and FW&GS stores temporarily closed.  

However, e-commerce dollar sales and transactions remain elevated over pre-pandemic year-over-year growth rates, with sales for 2021-22 up 171.9% and transactions up 160.4% as compared to 2018-19. 

According to the report, vodka, whiskey, tequila and ready-to-drink spirits topped the list of product categories with the highest year-over-year dollar gains with increases ranging from 2.6% to 63.8% across categories. 

Unflavored vodka was the top spirits category in 52 counties, while the remaining 15 counties had American whiskey as the top spirits category. 

California cabernet sauvignon was the top wine category in 34 counties, while another 24 counties had box red wine as the top wine category; California chardonnay followed in six counties, and beverage wine followed in three. 

The top three counties – Allegheny, Philadelphia, and Montgomery – accounted for 35% of statewide sales. 


Production, promotion of Pa. beers and wines gets nearly $2 million boost from PLCB grants

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has approved grants totaling $1,78 million for 21 projects to increase the production of Pennsylvania-made malt and brewed beverages and wines, Governor Tom Wolf announced. 

The grants are aimed at enhancing Pennsylvania’s beer industry via promotion, marketing, and research-based programs and projects, as well as increasing the production of state-made wines. 

“Since 2017, we have awarded more than $12 million to projects that support Pennsylvania’s growing wine and beer industries as they explore research, improve products and raise awareness,” Wolf said. “This is an investment that helps growers meet increasingly complex challenges, provides higher-quality and better-tasting products, and connects consumers with Pennsylvania wines and craft beverages that are among the finest in the nation.” 

Ranked second in the U.S. for volume of craft beer production, Pennsylvania produced 3.2 million barrels in 2021 for a $5.5 million economic impact. Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the country for wine production and annually welcomes more than two million visitors to state wineries generating tourism revenue of more than $476.5 million. The economic impact of wine in Pennsylvania is more than $1.4 billion. 

Act 39 of 2016 created the Pennsylvania Malt and Brewed Beverages Industry Promotion Board within the department of Agriculture and authorized the PLCB to approve up to $1 million annually for the development and marketing of the Pennsylvania beer industry. The Pennsylvania Fiscal Code also allows for unallocated beer grant funds to be made available in subsequent years. 

Act 39 also expanded the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Board and authorized the PLCB to approve up to $1 million annually for wine research and promotion. 

The PLCB regulates the distribution of beverage alcohol in Pennsylvania, operates 600 wine and spirit stores statewide, and licenses 20,000 alcohol producers, retailers, and handlers. The PLCB partners with schools, community groups, and licensees to reduce and prevent dangerous and underage drinking. Taxes and store profits totaling nearly $19.5 billion since the agency’s inception are returned to the state’s General Fund to finance Pennsylvania schools, health and human services programs, law enforcement, public safety initiatives, and other key public services. 

The Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and other state agencies and local municipalities across the state also receive financial support from the PLCB. 

Additional information regarding the PLCB can be found at lcb.pa.gov. 

Wolf urges Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to remove Russian-made products from state-owned stores 

In a letter to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Sunday, Gov. Tom Wolf urged the state board to remove Russian-sourced products from Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. 

Wolf’s letter follows Russia’s attack on Ukraine this month. 

“I urge you to remove Russian-sourced products from stores and cease selling them as quickly as possible as a small show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine, and an expression of our collective revulsion with the unprovoked actions of the Russian state,” Wolf wrote in the letter. 

Removing Russian-made vodkas off the shelves of state stores was seconded by the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, which called the option reasonable. 

“This is a reasonable option for the Commonwealth to take to show its disapproval of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the damage the attack has done to world peace,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the association. 

Russian liquor sold at Pennsylvania’s state liquor stores includes Russian Standard and Ustianochka. If the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board does follow through with Wolf’s request, the move would not include Russian-themed liquors. 

The association recommended a number of American-made vodka brands for taverns, bars, clubs and licensed restaurants to use instead of Russian-made vodkas including Texas-made Tito’s Vodka and locally made vodkas such as Holla Spirits in York. 


Pa. restaurants can increase capacity starting Sept. 21 – but there are some catches

Restaurants in Pennsylvania can return to operating at 50% capacity starting Sept. 21, Gov. Tom Wolf announced today.

Restaurants have been limited to 25% capacity since July 16, when capacity was rolled back and bar seating was prohibited after a spike in COVID-19 cases from the initial opening when most of the state’s counties entered the green phase of the reopening plan June 26.

However, as part of the increase in capacity, restaurants must commit to strictly complying with all COVID-19 safety guidelines and orders through a self-certification process and agree to close alcohol sales at 10 p.m.

While many restaurants have been closing at earlier hours because of the restrictions, many have maintained later hours – keeping their kitchens open so that alcohol can be served.

Under current restrictions alcohol can only be served when accompanying a meal.

“While our aggressive and appropriate mitigation efforts have kept case counts low, we must continue to take important steps to protect public health and safety as we head into the fall. At the same time, we must also support the retail food services industry that has struggled throughout this pandemic,” Gov. Wolf said. “The self-certification ensures that restaurants can expand indoor operations and commit to all appropriate orders so that employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected.”

The self-certification will be used as part of enforcement efforts conducted by Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and will be shared with the departments of State, Labor & Industry and Health, and other enforcement agencies.

Wolf said in a release that those restaurants that want to increase their capacity to 50% must complete the online self-certification process by Oct. 5.

The self-certification documents and information about the Open & Certified Pennsylvania program can be found online starting Sept.21.

Social distancing, masking and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons.

All other restrictions announced in July will remain in place.

Restaurants that self-certify will appear in the Open & Certified Pennsylvania searchable online database of certified restaurants across the state.

Wolf said the self-certification process is modeled after a similar mitigation effort in Connecticut, and the alcohol sales limitation is modeled after a similar mitigation effort in Ohio.

Pa. liquor stores post record income for fiscal year

While Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores were shut down during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said it had record net income for Fiscal Year 2019-2020.

Sales were down over the previous year.

The board said the $2.56 billion in sales for the year was nearly $111 million less than the prior year.

However, because of decreased operating expenses including poste-employment benefit costs and pension expenses, net income totaled $208.7 million.

That’s $17.7 million or 9.2% higher than the previous year.

The PLCB made a total of $745.1 million in contributions to state and local governments and other beneficiaries including $2.2 million in grants in support of Pennsylvania’s beer and wine industries and $816,630 in alcohol education grants to reduce underage and dangerous drinking.

The PLCB regulates the distribution of beverage alcohol in Pennsylvania, operates more than 600 wine and spirits stores statewide, and licenses more than 20,000 beverage alcohol producers and retailers.

In a weekend check, State Police issue 64 COVID-19 compliance warnings

Pennsylvania State Police Liquor Control Enforcement Officers made 1,709 checks on liquor establishments and issued 64 warnings over the weekend. That compares to last weekend when 1,524 checks were made and 44 warnings issued.

In the Lehigh Valley, nine of the 206 visited businesses received warnings. Last weekend only two businesses received warnings.

In Harrisburg, officers made 54 checks and issued seven warnings, a higher percentage than last weekend when 10 warnings were issued in the region after 115 checks.

Larger cities are receiving more visits because of higher coronavirus transmission rates in those areas, but compliance percentages were higher. In Philadelphia, there were only seven warnings out of 367 checks.

Pittsburgh had more violations than Philly —  18 warnings out of 383 visits.

The requirements the officers are enforcing include ensuring employees in the restaurant and retail food service industry are ensuring diners wear masks when entering, exiting or otherwise traveling throughout the business, but not while sitting. Employees, however, are required to wear masks at all times.

The businesses must provide at least six feet between parties at tables or physical barriers between customers where booths are arranged back to back and ensure maximum occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor areas are posted and enforced.

To date, state police have only issued warnings. No citations have been made. However, in its release it was noted that continued violations put an establishment’s liquor license at risk, either through a citation or upon application for renewal.


PLCB clarifies new COVID-19 safety guidelines for Pa. bars, restaurants

The PLCB has clarified new, stricter guidelines for COVID-19 mitigation at the state’s bars and restaurants PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES –


With confusion lingering over just what is and what isn’t allowed since the state issued stronger guidelines for COVID-19 mitigation efforts at bars and restaurants, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board today issued clarifying guidance.

Last week, the PLCB issued stricter restrictions for liquor license holders in response to an increase in new COVID-19 cases in the state. The clarifying PLCB guidance is for restaurant, retail dispenser and hotel licensees (whether offering indoor or outdoor seating); club and catering club licensees; brewery, distillery, limited distillery, winery, and limited winery licensees; and golf course licensees.

According to the PLCB, sales of alcohol for on-premises consumption are only permissible as part of a larger transaction that includes a meal purchase. The term “meal” is defined in section 406 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code as “food prepared on the premises, sufficient to constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

The definition expressly states that a snack, such as pretzels, popcorn, chips or similar food do not meet the definition of a meal. Some Lehigh Valley restaurants said they had been letting customers order things as simple as a side order of celery to constitute a food order.

A customer who wishes to consume alcohol on the premise must also purchase a meal; a group of customers who wish to consume alcohol on premises may do so as long as a meal is part of the purchase made by the group.

Additional drinks may be purchased while the customer is consuming the meal, but no further drinks may be purchased after the meal is finished. Service and seating at the bar of a restaurant for both food and/or alcohol is prohibited.

For Pennsylvania manufacturers (breweries, distilleries, and wineries), meals may be provided by the licensee or by a third party, such as a food truck.

Casinos may no longer provide drink service on the casino floor.

If a club does not sell food, either directly or through a concessionaire, it cannot use its liquor license.

The governor’s additional order directing targeted mitigation measures specifically prohibits businesses that meet the definition of a “nightclub” under the Clear Indoor Air Act from operating.


Pa. reopens state liquor stores in Lehigh and Northampton, closes others in Philly

Most of Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores are set to reopen on Friday in the remaining counties transitioning to the state’s yellow phase.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced that 176 Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores will resume limited in-store public access on Friday, June 5. At that time, 525 of the state liquor stores will be opened to the public. The board originally planned to have all of the state’s stores opened by June 5 but noted that it had to reclose 31 stores in Philadelphia, one store in Delaware County and one store in Pittsburgh due to extensive damage and looting.

The stores reopening on Friday include: 14 in Berks County, 31 in Bucks County, 19 in Chester County, 17 in Delaware County, 13 in Lackawanna County, 19 in Lancaster County, 17 in Lehigh County, 33 in Montgomery County and 13 in Northampton County.

While stores will be opened to the public, they will be limited to 25 people customers at a time.

The Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores will also set aside an hour a day for customers at high risk for COVID-19. Stores will also acquire customers and employees to maintain social distancing and wear masks. No returns will be accepted until further notice.

The stores plan to continue offering curbside sales, which brought in more than $72.1 million from April 20 through June 4, according to the board.

State to expedite liquor license expansions for outdoor dining

As counties move en-masse out of the most restrictive part of the state’s three-phase plan to reopen non-life-sustaining businesses, the state’s liquor authority said it will expedite applications for temporary liquor license extensions so restaurants can serve alcohol in outdoor seating areas without facing legal scrutiny.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) announced Wednesday it will immediately grant authority for restaurants to serve at previously unlicensed outdoor areas, waiving application fees and the 30-day waiting period typically required before officials approve a license extension. This option is available to clubs, catering clubs, restaurants, retail dispensers, hotels, distilleries, limited distilleries, wineries, limited wineries and breweries, according to a Wednesday guideline update from the PLCB.

The PLCB’s announcement comes after May 27 guidelines said restaurants in yellow-phase counties could host in-person dining beginning June 5, with indoor areas and bars closed except for through-traffic. Serving or selling alcoholic beverages in areas not covered by a business’ liquor license is against the law, so licensees are required to apply to the PLCB for an extension of licensed premises.

The application for an expanded alcohol-friendly seating area will require licensees to submit a plan outlining the areas that would fall under the license’s expanded authority. Outdoor areas are required to be adjacent and contiguous to the existing licensed premises — all other applications will be rejected, according to guidelines released Wednesday.

The expanded permit is effective until the COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration ends or the PLCB intervenes in opposition to the applicant, according to Wednesday’s guidelines.

Any licensee that’s out of compliance with state guidelines risks citation and license revocation by the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE). Only three businesses have received citations since March 23 and 354 have received warnings from the BLCE, according to State Police records.

PLCB will open 60 additional liquor stores on Friday

The state’s top liquor authority said Thursday it will re-open 60 additional Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores on May 29, making for a total of 349 on-site locations that will have resumed modified in-person operations in 56 yellow-phase counties by the end of the week. That includes one in Adams County, 10 in Cumberland, 14 in

Dauphin, two in Perry, 13 in York, four in Northumberland, four in Lebanon and four in Carbon, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB).

For state-run retail liquor stores, the Wolf administration’s three-phase plan to reopen commerce means limiting the number of customers in a store at all times to 25, mandatory mask-wearing inside stores, introducing one-way signage to direct customers and reserving the first hour of each day’s operations for high-risk customers.

The PLCB unanimously approved the procurement of 600 non-contact digital thermometers to test employees of Fine Wine and Good Spirit stores, for an estimated $78,000 at its April 29 meeting. Of the 10 suppliers solicited by the PLCB, Massachusetts-based Global Supply USA was the only supplier to respond, PLCB officials reported at the April board meeting.

According to the agency’s preliminary figures, e-commerce sales in 2020 have dwarfed sales in the whole of the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

“We had more than five times the orders on e-commerce than we took in an entire fiscal year,” said PLCB spokesperson Shawn Kelly in an interview Thursday morning. “We had to increase locations that were filling ecommerce orders. We had one e-commerce fulfillment center in Montgomery County, one of the hardest hit counties early on. At the height of fulfillment, 120 location around the state were processing filling ecommerce orders.”

Since e-commerce sales resumed on April 1, PLCB closed 204,366 sales amounting to more than $19.57 million in revenue, according to Kelly. For comparison, during the 2018-2019 fiscal year from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019, e-commerce accounted for 39,042 orders and $4.98 million, Kelly said.

E-commerce continues to represent a small portion of total PLCB sales, according to agency’s first-quarter pricing report, although the agency has reported “exponential sales growth as customers gravitate to the convenience of online shopping.” Statewide curbside pickup sales from April 20 through May 28 total nearly 950,000 orders for $65.3 million, including sales tax, according to preliminary, unaudited figures.