A new Pennsylvania-based business is shipping cases of craft beer direct from breweries around the country to consumers, including consumers here in Pennsylvania. We just can't get any beer from the several Pennsylvania brewers who've already signed on to the service.
The site, Beerjobber.com, launches on Monday, appearing to work around the three-tier system that has been in existence since the repeal of Prohibition, in which brewers sell to wholesalers, which sell to retailers, which sell to consumers.
That makes it illegal in Pennsylvania, state Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said yesterday.
Beerjobber founder and president Sean Nevins cites a little-known section of the Pennsylvania Code (Chapter 9.91) that he says for years has allowed residents to import from out of state malt or brewed beverages "for personal use only and not for sale, provided that the malt or brewed beverages are in original containers and that the tax thereon has been paid." He says Beerjobber pays the 18 cents-per-case tax to the state on customers' behalf.
Ms. Witalec says he is "mistaken," citing LCB lawyers who say Beerjobber would need an importing license to bring beer in to the state.
Mr. Nevins is going ahead without one, saying other states have similar personal exemptions, and so Beerjobber will ship to 38 states as well as the District of Columbia. As part of navigating those state laws, it doesn't deliver a beer to residents of the state where that beer is made. Nor will it deliver a beer to you -- if a brewer doesn't want it to -- if the brewer already has distributor with rights to sell it in your area. And that's why your zip code is key when you're shopping on the site.
"We want customers to be in compliance," too, Mr. Nevins says.
He says Beerjobber can offer fresher beer, and a more satisfying beer shopping experience, than many distributors and other retailers.
And because it cuts out the middlemen, and doesn't take the middle step of shipping from brewers to warehouse and then to consumers, he says it can offer reasonable prices, even though a case of beer is such a heavy and expensive item to ship.
In beta mode, it's been selling beer since December, and already has 2,500 members.
It'll be interesting to see how it goes from here, or if it meets legal action from some states, including Pennsylvania, which forbids direct-shipment of wine and spirits to consumers except in very limited circumstances.
"We're kinda piggybacking on the wine industry in terms of being able to ship the beer," Mr. Nevins said last week in a phone call from the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, where the business is based. He says that, in Pennsylvania as in other states, the laws are "murky" when it comes to direct shipment of alcoholic beverages.
But he cites as loosening things up the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that states allowing in-state wineries to direct-ship their vintages must allow out-of-state ones to do it, too.
Pennsylvania now allows a small winery to ship directly to customers if it has a state "limited winery" license. A small out-of-state winery can ship to customers if it acquires that license. But a larger winery -- producing more than 200,000 gallons a year -- can ship limited amounts, and to state stores for customers to pick up there, if the state system doesn't carry its products, and it needs a direct wine shipper license. Otherwise, out-of-state wineries, spirits distillers and brewers legally must go through the state or state-licensed wholesalers, confirmed LCB assistant counsel Jason Worley in a phone call with Ms. Witalec earlier this week.
As for shipping beer here, Mr. Worley said Beerjobber would need an importing distributor's license. But Mr. Nevins says that would be necessary for selling to retailers, and, "We are only selling to the end customer."
So it could become a legal fight. Beerjobber is a different kind of a business.
Mr. Nevins explains how it works: Once it agrees to work with a craft brewer (and it won't work with just any of them), it provides the brewer with the shipping boxes that safely hold a case of beer. When an order comes in, Beerjobber emails the shipping label to the brewer, who simply affixes it to the container, puts in the beer, and then a shipper -- UPS or Fedex -- picks up the beer and delivers it. Customers must be at least 21, of course, and sign for delivery with proof of identification and age. (The website suggests having the beer sent to your office if no one's at home: "We use plain brown boxes, marked 'Glass.' ").
Why would a consumer want to buy beer from Beerjobber? Especially if you live in an area such as Pittsburgh, where you can buy so much craft beer?
Mr. Nevins, who says they're doing the most business in places that would be considered good beer towns, says there's more to it than just being able to get beers from small brewers that may not be distributed where you live.
Using members' profiles, the website is able to steer members towards beers they are more likely to enjoy, and provide information about those beers and breweries. The site also offers other social-media aspects, so members can share their likes and dislikes and wish lists and otherwise communicate. They're still working on those features, he says. "We've got a lot more surprises and things in store for people as we move one"
But if you're like me, cost is a big factor. Shopping on the site last week, I added to my cart a variety case from Moylan's Brewing Co. in California. The beer would have cost $49.50, and the shipping cost would have been $24.95. (You can buy Moylan's locally anyway.)
Mr. Nevins says that's the site's maximum shipping charge; the minimum is $14.95; customers should receive their orders within 10 days, and usually do much quicker. Beer costs more than that to ship coast-to-coast, he says, but Beerjobber is able to subsidize shipping costs because of wholesale-like prices it negotiates for the beer.
The 30-some breweries it's launching with include Voodoo Brewery in Meadville and Erie Brewing Co. in Erie. Brewery reps could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The first coffee beer collaboration between the Nicholas Coffee and Church Brew Works is ready and will be tapped tonight during a party from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Diamond Market Bar & Grill on Market Square, Downtown.
Collaborators Jordan Nicholas of Nicholas Coffee, who's also co-owner of the Diamond Market, and Church brewer Matt Moninger first met at the Market Square coffee roaster back in November so Mr. Moninger, a non-coffee drinker, could try different coffees. Then, after he brewed a stout in December, they met on a recent Friday to try it infused with varying amounts of super-concentrated brews of three different Nicholas coffees: Northern Italian espresso, Tanzanian peaberry and the Nicaraguan Maragogipe. They tasted so much of the stuff over three hours that they had "palate fatigue," recounts Mr. Nicholas with a smile. But they had assistance from some regulars at the Church, and Diamond Market employees got to try some, too.
They settled on the Maragogipe, also known because of its size and shape as "elephant bean coffee," as the tastiest and most approachable in the stout.
Mr. Moniger says "we wanted to make the coffee the star. We brewed a lighter, dryer and less hoppy [than usual] American stout." Rather than add brewed coffee to the beer, he added 15 pounds of freshly ground coffee beans and let that steep for a few days before filtering it out.
That's the Nicholas Coffee Stout that you can taste tonight at the Diamond Market, which plans to have a coffee beer on tap regularly. This first one also will be available later at the Church in Lawrenceville, and eventually, perhaps, at other watering holes around town, and more are on the way.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1930.