Mug Clubs Breaking The Law and Didn't Even Know It

Sep 3, 2012

A concern raised by Pennsylvania’s growing microbrewing industry illustrates a common clash between brewpubs and the state’s long-standing liquor laws.   

A microbrewer’s recent run-in with the state Liquor Control Board is spurring him to take his case to lawmakers.

The call came right around Memorial Day said Iron Hill Brewery president Kevin Finn. "Cease and desist your mug club immediately.

Finn pointed to the fact his brewery’s so-called “mug club” was deemed illegal, because it rewards customers by having them accumulate points for the purchase of food and alcohol and it gives them a discount on alcohol once they buy a club membership. “You drink out of a bigger mug,” he said. “They interpreted that the larger portion of beer for the same price was enticement and that giving points for the purchase of beer and wine and spirits was enticement.”

Finn’s business runs six brewery restaurants in the state: Chestnut Hill, Lancaster, Media, North Wales, Phoenixville, and West Chester. The mug club flagged by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has been part of his establishments for 15 years.

LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman says the rules about mug clubs aren’t new, although they may be new to Iron Hill Brewery.

“It can be a little challenging and a little daunting to go through the Liquor Code,” says Kriedeman.

Kriedeman says the agency has long had rules against things like mug clubs, because they could entice customers to buy more alcohol and offer discounts to only certain people.

Finn’s brewery has since changed its policies, but at a recent hearing of the House Liquor Control Committee, he argued the rules conflict with reasonable business practices and he asked House lawmakers to take note.