For some people in Bucks County, being able to buy beer in a supermarket soon isn’t the most significant aspect of the state’s new liquor laws. Instead, it’ll be getting it in a winery.
“You want to buy products as close to where they’re born as you can. When they’re fresh, local and made without preservatives, that makes a difference,” said Tom Carroll, co-founder of Crossing Vineyards Winery in Washington Crossing. “This can help establish the region as a ‘buy local, eat local, stay local’ area.”
Carroll travels internationally for work and pleasure, and sees this as a hallmark in places from Italy to California: People in different regions enjoy foods and products unique to those areas, and travelers to various places can experience those distinct cultural touchstones.
It’s something Carroll wants to see happen at home, which is where legislation signed into law by Gov. Wolf last month comes into play.
That easement on Pennsylvania’s strict state store system now allows local wineries, breweries and distilleries to offer each other’s products. It’s an opportunity that existed in other states already but not here.
Before last month, local wineries could have their products sold at breweries that also serve their own beers. But, locally made beers couldn’t be served or sold at wineries, even ones like Crossing Vineyards that host weddings and other events. Meanwhile, craft spirits like bourbon and rye were completely isolated, regulation-wise, from other alcoholic beverages.
But the new law changed that, and destination wineries like Crossing Vineyards can increase their locations’ appeal by expanding their drink menus. Meanwhile, places like Vault Brewing Co. in Yardley and the Dad’s Hat Rye distillery in Bristol are also excited to make their products available at each other’s establishments.
“This gives you a broader ability to sell your product, which I think is a great thing,” said Dad’s Hat co-founder John Cooper. “It’s a bigger opportunity to get a wider place in the market, and get more people familiar with craft spirits.”
Locally sourced liquor is quickly catching up to regional wineries and microbreweries: When Dad’s Hat opened in 2010, there were fewer than five craft distilleries in the state. Today, there are nearly 40. But, along with different state tax laws, spirits face other unique challenges compared to other alcoholic beverages.
“It’s a volume issue. When people sit in a bar, they’ll maybe have two to four beers but one or two cocktails. If they buy a six-pack, they may drink that in a week. But an individual won’t drink a bottle of whiskey in a week,” explained Cooper. “Economically, your distillery has to appeal to a broader segment of people.”
The Dad’s Hat distillery currently offers tours but little else in terms of regular traffic to their location. Now, it can consider expansions like building a bar on premises where its products are sold alongside local beers. That would make it a destination for many more people than before.
“It changes the on-site experience,” said Cooper.
Those are changes that Vault Brewing is already considering. The Yardley-based brewery and brewpub plans to have a new bar and 1,000-square-foot addition added to their building early next year. According to co-founder James Cain, Vault hopes to time those openings with an expanded drink menu featuring other locally made beverages.
“That’s perfect because you can see what’s working, learn from the experiences of others and build a program,” he predicted.
Vault, like Crossing Vineyards and Dad’s Hat, is waiting to see exactly how the new law gets enacted, and how far it will actually reach.
“It softened the state’s monopoly. This is the first step toward privatizing,” noted Carroll. “It’s baby steps, but it’s a good first step.”
Still, noted Cain, the possibilities are virtually endless, especially when it comes to ways for local alcohol-makers to establish truly unique regional products.
“We might find an idea to work with where we carry a brand [of spirits], empty one of their barrels, and maybe age a beer in it and release that,” he offered. “That’d be everything coming full circle.”