Navigating PA Blue Laws in Search of Beer

Recently, PA State Senator John Rafferty has become the latest to challenge Pennsylvania’s strange and arcane beer sales laws in attempt to allow six-pack sales at beer distributors, grocery and convenience stores (read more about that here). In addition, it’s been just about a year since Wegman’s made a splash in the PA scene when it was announced they would be selling beer. Beer in the supermarket? In Pennsylvania? Amazing! The catch, of course, is that they got a “pizza place” license to sell up to 12 beers (or the equivalent) for takeout. Sales are only allowed in the food court area, not the main checkout aisle. Still, the fact that you can grab a sixer on a trip to the grocery store is certainly a big plus for PA residents (and a Wegman’s should open in Malvern in 2010).

After checking out the selection at Wegman’s (which is quite good btw, with a nice variety of imports and craft beers), and picking up sixers of Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout and Hook & Ladder Brown Ale, I got to thinking about the other problem (aside from not being able to get it at the supermarket) with buying beer in PA — that you have to buy a case at a time (unless you want to pay $12 for a 6-pack of Bud at your local pizza joint). Who among us hasn’t gotten somewhat adventurous at the beer store, spending upwards of $40 for a case that looks great but you’ve never tried, only to come home and find out that it really isn’t all that good?

Is it so much to ask to be able to buy singles or sixers of beers that look interesting but are unknown, without making such a big investment? I knew there were a few places in the area that sold “mix your own” six-packs, so I decided to find out if this was a better way to buy beer (or at least a good alternative). Could I find single bottles with the selection offered at the Beer Yard? Would I have to break the bank to shop for beer this way? Read on to find out.

Michael’s Deli, King of Prussia
This unassuming deli features a wall of coolers featuring 6-packs, and 4+ coolers featuring single bottles. Around the corner, two more coolers feature large bottles of Belgian and other beers, such as Corsendonk and Brooklyn Local 2. Overall they had an amazing selection, with more (visible) beers than any place I visited. It was perhaps somewhat import-dominated, so I’d like to see them add some more US-based craft brewers. There was some kind of six-pack discount, but it wasn’t too clear to me what it was. I paid $16. Valley Forge Center – Rt 202; 610-265-3265;

Ron’s Original, Exton
Through the “takeout” door, there’s a wall of coolers where two doors are devoted to single bottles, including some magnums. Another door has local craft six-packs. Although the selection was not the biggest we encountered, it was almost all seasonal. A trip in early September had me loading up on Oktoberfests and Pumpkin Ales. Beers are priced individually, but you get $1 off each beer you add to a six-pack. I paid just under $16. 74 East Uwchlan Ave.; (610) 594-9900;

Flying Pig, Malvern
There is no big cooler to admire, just a written list of beers (100+), plus seasonal specials on the chalkboard. Grab a drink at the bar while you decide. The only drawback to their setup is that you have to tell the bartender what you want, which is not a huge deal, but kind of annoying, especially if you want a wide variety. 25% off bottle prices with a mixed six. I paid $17. 121 East King Street; (610) 578-9208

So, after sampling 3 different places, we learned that mixed six-packs tend to run around $16 each, or the equivalent of a $64 case. Most of the beers that we purchased would probably cost around $40 for a case, so clearly there is a markup here, but then again there is always a volume discount when buying food. Is it worth it? Well that’s really up to the buyer. I think we can clearly say that it is a nice option to have if you are looking to try a wide variety of beers… at least until someone changes our laws.

Other places that offer mixed six-packs with a large variety of choice:

TJs Everyday
35 Paoli Plaza Paoli, PA; 610-725-0100;

1149 Lancaster Ave. Rosemont, PA 19010; 610-525-1851;

The Drafting Room
635 N. Pottstown Pike Exton, PA 19341; 610-363-0521;

(comment below if we missed any, and we’ll add to the list)