HOT WEATHER and beer sure seem to go together, which got me thinking: Hey, if

we're revamping booze sales, what about beer?

Why doesn't the big push in Harrisburg to privatize liquor and wine sales include changes in our silly, arcane beer laws?

The bill introduced last week to sell the state stores says nothing about suds.

This despite the fact you can buy beer only at licensed distributors, or restaurants and taverns, the former by no less than a case, the latter with a two six-pack limit.

And, yeah, there are exceptions allowing large retail chains with restaurant licenses, such as Wegmans, to sell.

But basically, our official state policy is anti-brewski.

If we're gonna stop nanny-stating booze, why not stop nanny-stating all booze?

Beer is, after all, "proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

At least that's what Ben Franklin is often quoted as having said.

There is some modest movement to ease hooch restrictions.

A law takes effect July 28 allowing "happy hour" to go from two to four hours a day, so long as it doesn't exceed 14 hours a week.

Don't want anybody too happy.

And a little-noted change in the liquor code, signed by Gov. Corbett on June 28, allows restaurant liquor-license holders to get off-premises catering permits so that they can bring and serve their own booze.

Before, they had to bring it in from distributors and state stores.

Even this doesn't come without strings: they must notify State Police in writing 48 hours prior to events, they can do only 50 such events a year, they have to pay a one-time $500 fee and their servers have to pass a Liquor Control Board certification program proving that they can ID and handle drunks.

I know some lawmakers who could teach that course.

There's a beer bill in the Senate to permit sales in supermarkets and large convenience stores, and to allow distributors to sell less than a case.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, is the sponsor. In a memo seeking co-sponsors, he says that it's time that Pennsylvania moves out of its "antiquated system" and treats beer like they do in 46 other states.

He also notes that more than 100 microbreweries in Pennsylvania will market and sell more local beers under a more relaxed system.

(There's buzz that Rafferty wants to run for state attorney general next year. He's a former deputy attorney general. I figure his bill's an effort to win early support.)

Rafferty's bill is stuck in the Senate Law and Justice Committee. An aide tells me that Rafferty wants to wait to see what happens to the state-store legislation.

If it passes the House, said the aide, Rafferty will amend it with his beer-sales bill.

If he succeeds, maybe our state ranking in at least one area can improve.

The Beer Institute (I'm not making this up), a D.C.-based lobbying group, keeps consumption data by state.

We rank 27th, at 29.5 gallons per person per year.

That's only slightly above the national average of 28.9 gallons but nowhere near the real beer states: New Hampshire (44.2 gallons), Montana (41.6) and North Dakota (41.4). Utah, of course, ranks last - 51st counting D.C. - at a piddling 19.4 gallons.

But, we're on the move. We ranked 34th in '06, 32nd in '07 and '08, and 31st in '09.

If all goes well, we soon could see further proof of God's love - or least make Homer Simpson happier.

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