A cold beer may be hard to come by at local bars, taverns and restaurants

Cris Collingwood//June 2, 2022

A cold beer may be hard to come by at local bars, taverns and restaurants

Cris Collingwood//June 2, 2022

Close up of bartender pouring draft beer in glass

The availability of beer at bars, taverns and restaurants in the southeast is becoming a slow flow as supply chain issues hit distributors. 

According to the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA), distributors have been forced to limit deliveries due to a lack of drivers. 

While reports have filtered in from various parts of the state including the southeast and northwest, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) says the epicenter appears to be in the southcentral section, where with little warning, Ace Beer Distributors (Universal Products, Inc.), Wrightsville, informed bars, taverns and clubs that they were cutting back deliveries to only twice per month. 

 On their website, Ace describes itself as representing “more than 350 brands (more than 2,000 products distributed!) from over 130 supplier partners and services over 1,400 direct retail partners across Lancaster, York, Adams, Franklin, Fulton, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon, Perry, Mifflin, and Juniata counties.”  

 According to sources sharing information with the PLBTA, a labor crisis is to blame, specifically a lack of drivers.  

In a recent letter to the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee and the Pennsylvania Senate Law & Justice Committee, Chuck Moran, executive director of the PLBTA, told committee chairs that “the decision by Ace is quite problematic for small businesses that rely on the wholesaler.” Moran continued by writing, “Many family-owned taverns and bars do not have enough storage space to handle two or three weeks of malt beverage supplies.”  

 One club licensee recently wrote to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board with concerns about Ace’s delivery decision. The PLCB responded that the club could not pick up their own supplies, and they could not go out of a wholesaler’s territory to attempt to purchase supplies.   

The only options offered were to attempt to get a delivery from a smaller distributor (if they would even do so) within the wholesaler’s territory or swap out popular more affordable national brands with local brands from breweries that deliver.   

 But delivery problems are not new. Before the pandemic, there were similar issues to a lesser degree; however, now those problems are being amplified.   

 A statewide membership survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association in 2019 showed that nearly 40% of PLBTA members surveyed had fewer delivery date options and nearly 20% had experienced delayed delivery of malt beverages from distributors. And more than one out of three members had run out of certain malt beverages and had to wait for a resupply.  

 Further complicating the issue are outdated liquor laws. By law, bar owners can only receive beer delivered from retail and importing distributors and can’t pick it up themselves, Moran said.   

 While licensed bars, taverns and clubs can purchase liquors at a state store and personally deliver the supply to their bar or tavern, current law does not allow them to pick up and personally deliver malt beverages to their own establishment.  

 “In late 2019, we suggested a reasonable business solution to this problem, proposing legislation that would allow R, H, E, and club licensees to pick up a limited ‘emergency’ supply of beverages from the wholesaler or distributor and then deliver that supply to their own establishment when the wholesaler was unable to make a timely delivery,” Moran wrote in his letter to the legislative committees that oversee industry-related matters.  

For now, Moran says his association hopes the legislature as well as distributors will listen to these concerns and help build business solutions.