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Shore town is pinning its hopes on a keg law

Officials in Belmar, N.J., are using tags on the cylinders to try to cut down on underage drinking.

BELMAR, N.J. - In the 1980s, this Jersey Shore town earned the nickname "Fort Lauderdale North" for its party atmosphere, where keg parties were as common as seagulls on a summer weekend.

Things have calmed down considerably as group rentals have declined, but young people still come here to drink.

Trying to crack down on underage drinking, the borough is joining a nationwide trend of communities requiring stores that rent or sell beer kegs to affix the metal cylinders with tags including the name and address of the purchaser. In the event minors are found drinking from it, police will be able to know whom to charge with providing alcohol to minors.

Even possessing a keg without a tag will be punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or 90 days in jail.

"It's hard to pick up the paper nowadays and not see an article about an accident involving young people," said Mayor Ken Pringle.

"Alcohol certainly raises the likelihood of more accidents. To the extent that we can make it difficult for kegs to get into the hands of teenagers at parties, we can save lives."

Nationwide, about half the states and many local governments have similar laws. But they're not foolproof, according to some young party-goers.

"They couldn't care less about a keg law," said resident Karen Forbes. "Most of the people buying kegs are of age, 21 and over. But the kids will buy 30-packs or cases of beer."

Kim Standal, a 16-year-old enjoying a recent 75-degree April afternoon on Belmar's beach, said the new law is unfair.

"You should be able to do what you want," she said. "Your parents shouldn't be buying for you, but if they do, it's their business."

Justin DiMaio, 17, agreed. "If parents want to take the risk of buying alcohol for their kids, they take the responsibility, too," he said.

Elsewhere in New Jersey, Matawan has passed a similar law, and legislation is being considered to require keg tagging statewide.

The new law takes effect in a little over two weeks - plenty of time for the summer tourist season. Belmar is considering a variety of keg markers, including metallic tags, plastic fasteners and tamper-proof stick-on decals, Pringle said.

Customers will have to give their name, address and birthdate to the liquor store, which will also record the date and time of the purchase. The information will be kept in a log for 90 days, and the keg purchaser has to sign the log.

The kegs will be tagged with the name, address and phone number of the retailers who rented or sold the keg so that police can trace it if necessary.

"It's a lot to keep straight," said Elsie Wong, who owns the Little Red Barn liquor store here, Belmar's main keg purveyor. "But we have to do it."

She said that on a sunny summer weekend, her store can rent between 10 to 15 kegs.

A keg of domestic beer contains 165 12-ounce cups of beer, the equivalent of nearly seven cases of bottles, at 24 bottles per case. For that reason, Pringle isn't too concerned that young drinkers will make an end run around the new law.

"It takes a lot of 30-packs to equal a keg," he said. "As long as there are teens and alcohol, there's going to be teen drinking. The issue is making it more difficult to happen."