Nanny State The Great Philly Beer Bust or, Step Away From The Unlicensed Ale or I'll Shoot!


Back in March, the owners of Philadelphia's popular and upscale Memphis Tap Room found their place swarming with Pennsylvania state police searching for "unlicensed beer." As reported by the Philadelphia Daily News:

Although the bar owners had bought the beer legally from licensed Pennsylvania distributors and had paid all the necessary taxes, the police claimed that nobody had registered the precise names of the beers with the state Liquor Control Board—a process that requires the brewers or their importers to pay a $75 registration fee for each product they want to sell in Pennsylvania.

Based on a complaint from someone the State Police refuse to identify, three teams of officers converged last Thursday on the three bars, run by Leigh Maida and her husband, Brendan Hartranft. Checking their inventories against the state's official list of more than 2,800 brands, the cops seized four kegs and 317 bottles, totaling 60.9 gallons of beer, according to police calculations's Nick Gillespie recently sat down at the scene of the crime with the Tap Room's Hartranft to talk about the long reach of nanny state alcohol laws that just seem crazy, especially in the city that birthed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Great Philly Beer Bust shines a dark light on how capricious enforcement of stupid regulations undermines life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Or at least a perfectly chillded Monk's Cafe Sour Flemish Red Ale.

Approximately 7.30 minutes long. Shot by Dan Hayes and edited by Josh Swain.

Go to for downloadable versions and subscribe to's YouTube channel for automatic notifications when new material goes live.

NEXT: Get Rid of Bad Schools, Sez Education Chief

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s for you own good, you bunch of libertard Bushitler acolytes…

    1. The early troll gets the what, sheiek?

      1. I’m thinking that’s a spoof. As bad as he can be, even shriek would know this is bullshit.

        And referring to your comment below, didn’t there used to be this quaint notion that you could face your accusers?

        1. Definitely a parody, albeit not a very inspired one.

          1. Sorry about that- best I could do with a limited amount of time. I will strive to do better next time…

        2. BP, you are getting all into that legal thing that turns English on its head. Yea, after posting I thought that was a shriek spoof too.

      2. “The early troll gets the what, sheiek?”

        My worm.

      3. He didn’t mention Rush Limbaugh. Go easy on her.

        1. Damn it! I wanted to post “I heart Rush” and tried to use a bracket.

  2. Based on a complaint from someone the State Police refuse to identify

    Sounds like someone can’t compete with this bar without the help of the government.

    1. Or the waitress wouldn’t give him her number, amirite?

  3. perfectly chillded Monk’s Cafe Sour Flemish Red Ale

    Speaking of esoteric, snooty brews, I just returned from my grocer with a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a swill I haven’t swull in at least 20 years. And it ain’t bad! What happened? Have I sunk so low that even PBR tastes good to me? Do I need help?

    1. Have you also stopped washing your hair and bought really tight jeans? You could be turning into a hipster.

      1. Huh. I seem to have struck a PBR/Hipster meme without knowing it. Tell me, wise ones, about these “hipsters.” I don’t get out much.


          I live in Williamsburg BKLN. Ground Zero. I dont remember when they took over. It was like Body Snatchers. One day I was like, “Who’s that skinny twat in the tight jeans and the silly sunglasses who hasnt washed in a week?” …and suddenly everyone around me turned, pointed, and started shrieking this high pitched noise…

          1. Yikes! And they were drinking…PBR?

            1. If they are weirdos, yes. PUT THE CAN DOWN!

    2. This is one of the worst Belgian beers I have ever had. It takes like a soured (in the bad way) girlie cocktail. Never again.

      1. The Mon’s Flemish Sour Ale is one of my favorites. To each his own…

    3. Speaking of esoteric, snooty brews, I just returned from my grocer with a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon,

      Sol, I once had respect for you.

  4. Guarantee the heisted brew ends up at the nearest FOP Lodge hall.

    1. and they will pour out 80% of it because it tastes funny to them

  5. You are lower than a hipster. Congratulations.

  6. especially in the city that birthed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

    Pff, the original 13 colonies are a cesspool of anti-freedom government activity and corruption…

    1. Yes, they are. Even live free or die land.

    2. The whole world is either that or fucked up and ungovernable.

  7. Sounds like someone can’t compete with this bar without the help of the government.

    Maybe not. PA has hard limits on total liquor licenses granted, based on population?one license per x citizens in whatever area. Philly’s population is declining. Maybe someone who’s down with the pigs needs a license, and none are available?

    And it’s Philly. You can’t get a license without being corrupt. So, karma. Maybe.

  8. Didn’t this happen to the Three Stooges in “Beer Barrel Polecats”?

  9. “…cops seized four kegs and 317 bottles, totaling 60.9 gallons of beer, according to police calculations”
    But a keg of beer is 15.5 gallons, so 4 kegs would already exceed the police calculations by more than a gallon. Add to that the 317 bottles (@ 12oz. each = 29.7 gallons) and one gets 91.7 gallons, 31 gallons more than the police “calculated”. I guess basic numeracy is not a requirement for PA’s law enforcement community.

    1. Who said the kegs were full?

      1. obviuosly they had to be saampled to make sure the contents were not mislabled and therefore illegal….or the fucking cops can’t count. You pick.

    2. Obviously Teh Law aren’t Lambda Chis from Penn State.

  10. I still dont understand why this was done at the bar level instead of at the distributor level.

    1. And why was it done by teams of armed police and not a guy with a clip board from the liquor control board?

      1. Yeah, exactly.

        Guy from ABC comes in, pulls out his laptop which has and ACCURATE list of registered beers, notes what isnt registered, checks paperwork so the owner can prove he bought them from distributor. Then ABC guy goes after distributor.

        1. or ABC guy is just another hack douchebag

          1. More than likely. But he would be a hack douchebag with an accurate list.

    2. Now, to be clear, I get the bar level bit too – there is a bar near me that Im pretty sure is bringing in beers not registered in KY. So, doing this at the bar level could make sense, but I think it would more be an investigation in order to go after the distributor.

      At the very least, the bar should be able to sue the distributor over any fines he receives (and the distributor can then sue the breweries).

      1. Why do beers need to be registered with the state in the first place?

  11. *groan*

    Resurrection Ale House is on Grays Ferry Avenue, but it is not in the Grays Ferry neighborhood, which is about a half-mile south. That’s a huge distance, neighborhood-wise, here in Philly.

    The Resurrection Ale neighborhood is variously called South Philly and Southwest Center City. I can’t believe Brendan said that! We will have to rise up and smite him!

    1. An intimate knowledge of Philly neighborhoods is nothing to be proud of, Laura.

      1. Thanks RCD. You were once my hope for self esteem.

    2. Don’t forget G-Ho, LB! 😉

      I think we should let Brendan off in exchange for making it all up to us non-Grays Ferry neighborhood residents with free beers for all.

  12. Imagine the shit storm if they’d been unlicensed donuts.

  13. fitler square, maybe?

    1. while seemingly unable to master the “reply to this” button in a timely fashion, i hereby prove that late is indeed better then never.

  14. The bigger problem is that Pennsylvania has state alcoholic beverage stores. Virginia does too, but the governor wants to privatize them.

    1. When I lived in Philly from 1993-1996, I was amazed at the buttload of stupid laws they have on alcohol.

      I may be remembering some of this wrong but it was something like you could only buy hard liquor and wine at the State run stores and maybe 6-packs? But the 6-packs were very expensive at the State stores. And they had bankers hours (or Driver’s License bureau hours) which sucked if you wanted a beer before the football game started. No beer in the grocery store or local Walgreen’s ??

      Then they had the occasional Beer outlet store (distributorship?) (mysteriously every one I ever saw had an Irish name. I point this out not for the humorous aspect but because it suggests cronyism to me and if the number of licenses are limited, then it is who you know that matters) To make matters worse, you could NOT buy just a 6-pack. They forced you to buy at LEAST a case of beer. I think they also had wine coolers and soft drinks. Then to top off the stupidity, you could NOT use a charge card to buy the large amounts of beer they made you buy, only cash or check. Back then I thought it was to “protect” people from buying too much beer and going into debt but Now I realize it was probably something the owner’s of the distributorships had lobbied for since they ended up paying most of the fee to the C.C. company. To hell with the customers preferences when the guv’mnt runs it.

      1. Another good one is that restaurants that sell beer to go can’t sell more than 2 six-packs in a single sale.

        That led to the intoduction of 24 oz cans in six-packs so you can get more beer.

      2. You pretty much nailed it. Except that state stores only sell wine and hard liquor, no beer. Also, until recently there were no beer sales on Sunday. And the idiots in Harrisburg wonder why people in the Philly area go to Delaware or NJ to buy alcohol.

  15. If this bar owner keeps up to speed with regulations as well as he answwers nick’s questions, i can see why he doesn’t know what’s going on. For christ sakes answer the frickin question and quit himmin and hawin.

    1. I came here to say this. Dude’s on the hook for an undisclosed amount of money for the evil sin of … selling beer at a bar… and all he can do is say, “Well, yeah, but … it’s for my own good… I was responsible for it.”

  16. Speaking of hipsters, Hartranft is not a very sympathetic character.

    1. I should write, “does not seem like a sympathetic character.”

  17. Although seemed unable to grasp the “back” button, timely, I confirm that is never late than.

  18. Gracias por este blog.

  19. First, compare Pa. with Las Vegas. In LV I could get beer (at a local convenience store!) 24 hours a day!! (too cheap to drink at the hotel bar).

    Second, Pa. stores aren’t even open on Sundays!?!?!?!? Go to sleep early and wake up late = hosed.

    Third, police party that weekend?

  20. In the 70s, people in southwestern PA would often drive into WV to buy liquor at the WV State Store outside of Morgantown, as the prices were considerably lower than in PA.

    That is, until the PA State Police would park an unmarked car in the parking lot of the WV State Store. When anyone with PA license plates on their car bought a quantity of alcohol, the state trooper would radio the license plate numbers back to his colleagues in PA – who would wait on I-79 for the ‘offender’ to cross back into PA, where they would be stopped and charged with smuggling.

    The WV officials noticed the dropoff in sales – and arrested one of the PA state troopers for trespassing. I think that solved the problem.

    As for me, I never took I-79… US19 was a much nicer drive.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.