HARRISBURG - A recent state police raid on a trio of popular Philadelphia bars has fermented into a frothy tempest in a beer mug.
It began with raids late last week on three city bars by officers with the state police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. In all, four officers walked into each of the three establishments and confiscated 300 bottles of beer - as well as three quarter-kegs - because they said the beers had not been registered with the state, as required by the liquor code.
Now, there is an all-out investigation into who knew what about the beers, and whether they were legally being sold.
And politicians in Harrisburg are calling for hearings on whether the state's beer regulations are antiquated and should simply be struck off the books.
For their part, state police officials yesterday defended the raids on the bars: Local 44, Resurrection Ale House, and the Memphis Taproom.
"We are sworn to enforce the liquor code and its regulations - and there is nothing in the code that says we can pick and choose what we investigate," said Maj. John Lutz, director of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.
Pennsylvania's liquor code requires all brands of beer to be registered with the state's Liquor Control Board. The reasons: It allows the state to collect taxes on it, and it helps keep unsafe products from being sold to consumers.
Lutz said the bureau received a complaint that the three bars - owned by Leigh Maida and Brendan Hartranft - were selling brands of beer that had not been registered with the state.
Neither Maida nor Hartranft, who are a couple, could be reached for comment yesterday.
The penalties for selling unregistered beer range from fines of $50 to $1,000 to having a liquor license suspended or revoked, depending on the severity of the violation and any prior violations.
When the officers arrived at the bars, they sifted through inventory lists and determined there were 12 brands - some from small, out-of-state brewers - that had not been registered.
As it turns out, the officers were only partly right.
According to Lutz, four out of the dozen brands were, in fact, registered with the state and are being returned.
Who is responsible for registering the brands?
The law is complicated, but Lutz said the responsibility generally falls on beer makers, rather than bar owners or even the so-called importing distributors. The latter, under Pennsylvania's three-tiered system, buy beer from brewers and then distribute it to retailers, including bars.
So what happened in this case?
That is still under investigation, said Lutz.
But in Harrisburg, several lawmakers are wondering whether the registration regulation - as well as other portions of the state's liquor code - are in need of updating.
Rep. Robert Donatucci (D., Phila.), who chairs the House Liquor Control Committee, will be holding hearings to determine just that, Lynn Benka-Davies, the committee's executive director, said yesterday.