Blue Law Blues

Beer Bottles

Beer Bottles
The Utica Boilermaker is a 15K race that starts at a boiler plant and finishes at a brewery. For many years, the race organizers had to obtain a special permit to distribute free beer at the finish line, because it was before noon on a Sunday. That law was revised recently – just five years ago, I was refused a six-pack with my $150 grocery order, at 11:51 am on the Christian sabbath.

I thought of that this morning, because I had 16 bottles of beer in my $205 grocery order, again at 11:51 am, again on Sunday. I was allowed to purchase the beer, but the 4-pack had to be bagged in its own plastic bag. Now, I always bring reusable canvas grocery bags, good citizen that I am. I asked if we could use one of my bags, and the clerk answered, “No, it’s store policy that beer must go into one of our plastic bags.” I pointed out that my reusable bags all had the store logo on them. “Sorry.” Of course, the 12-pack was in a box, and that didn’t get a bag. I asked why. “Because we don’t have any bags that large.”

What’s going on with New York State liquor law? I did some research on the state web site, and couldn’t find guidance for consumers. Stores seem to be increasingly cautious. For my 16 bottles this morning, I also had to present my driver’s license for age verification. Now, I don’t mind doing that, but I always point out that purchasing a couple hundred dollars of groceries would be a long way to go just to score illicit beer. The 20-something clerks rarely even smile at that.

The other night, I stopped into Byrne Dairy on my way home from a theater job. I placed on the checkout counter two cartons of ice cream, two dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and a 12-pack of Saranac Octoberfest, brewed just 5 miles down the road. “I can’t let you buy that if she’s here,” said the whippersnapper clerk, indicating 15 year-old Sarah (my daughter). Momentarily confused, I told Sarah to wait in the car. “Sorry, but I know she’s with you, so now I can’t sell you the beer.” I was gobsmacked. Somebody suggested later that the clerk thought I was purchasing beer for a minor. Give me a break – what minor wants a 12-pack of craft beer, which costs more than a 24-pack of Budweiser?

These puritanical laws exist in a culture that knows kids are drinking at college, even at high school parties. Maybe the stores just want to be sure they play as little a part in that scene as possible. At the same time, they are denying sales of products other laws are intended to encourage the production of. New York has a farm brewery law, to entice brewers to use New York State agriculture products in their beers. (I think we should allow minors to buy NYS craft beer, and keep them off Budweiser.)

I’d like to open a microbrewery at some point. A restauranteur friend told me I was nuts, because the legal climate is driving liability insurance through the roof. “It’s always your fault if anything happens,” he said. Alright. Since we’re already drowning in laws, how about a few caveats? If I’m buying two dozen eggs, ice cream and milk, that surely helps NYS agriculture – let me buy the beer if my daughter is with me, because after all, I might have left her in the car and just handed over the NYS craft beer and nobody would have known any better. And if somebody’s going to buy a couple hundred dollars of groceries, doesn’t it make sense they have a family to feed? Even if the purchaser is under 21, let’s agree they deserve a few bottles of beer at the end of a hard day.