Let's be honest, Pennsylvania is home to some of the most backwards liquor laws in the country.
Want to go buy a bottle of wine?
Good luck finding it in a grocery store. Yay, this law is finally going away!
Want a six pack of beer? No corner store will stock it. (But literally just a few gas stations in the state might)
Want to pick up hard liquor? The state runs a monopoly on the stuff unless you are a local distiller.
I could spend quite a bit of time ranting about how crazy these laws are, but instead I want to help you out with three ways we've come to exploit the system for the best.
For Beer – Avoid the Pizza Shops and Go to the Distributor
There are really only three kinds of places we know of to buy beer in Pittsburgh. They are at pizza stores and dive restaurants that stock six packs, mix-and-match six pack stores where you can get just about anything you want, and beer distributors.
The downside to each of these is that they each have a pretty strong foothold in any given neighborhood, and all have horrible markup over what you can get in any other logical state in this country.
To us, paying $11 for a six pack of Yuengling seems a bit ridiculous, and the premium for any good beer is just too much to fathom (at that point, I'd rather just go to a local Pittsburgh brewery and buy a growler to bring home).
Our favorite way to get around this is to sample beers at the mix-and-match shops at an unfortunate premium and then buy a case of our favorites from a local beer distributor. This is a huge upfront cost, but in many cases you can knock off anywhere from a few dollars per six pack or, in the case of cheap stuff like Yuengling, get a fourth case for the price of three. Not a huge savings, but with mark-ups like we've seen any little bit helps.
Be careful, because not all distributors and mix-and-match shops are as popular as others. It isn't uncommon to find expired beer out for sale so you really do need to pay attention when buying bottled beer in the city.
(Note: We have also seen grocery stores that have annexed liquor sections start to have growler dispensaries at relatively affordable prices which may be a suitable alternative to many. We have also spotted a few of the larger Sheetz and other large gas station / convenience stores starting to have beer thanks to a loophole in the law, and as of August 2016 these laws will loosen up just a bit.)
For Liquor – Abuse the Sales
If there is one thing I've learned about building a home bar, it is that I can be very, very flexible at what I buy at any given time (mostly just because I buy things without an intended use in mind). This is good because those who have the most flexibility when buying spirits will reap the rewards.
The reason for this is because Pennsylvania's state run liquor stores have monthly sales that discount liquor anywhere from $1 to $10 off per bottle. This includes the bottom shelf products you shouldn't touch all the way to the premium stuff that costs $50 per bottle or more. Considering you have little to no other options in buying alcohol in the state, short of only drinking products from local distillers like Wigle Whiskey or Maggie's Farm Rum, any discount from the monopoly is a good thing.
The best part is that they publish the monthly sales sheet online, so you can instantly take a look at what is on sale at any given time (seriously, check it out, it is glorious).
As an added bonus the state store also does a coupon of the month which typically features one or two spirits and a wine selection (see the sidebar of the homepage). We've come to realize that many of the monthly liquor coupons coincide with a product that is already on-sale, so you should be able to get a double discount. In recent months we've received $12 off a premium bottle of vodka and $9 off a Pennsylvania gin.
Knowing this, why would you ever overpay again?
For Wine – Find Your Favorite State Store
Finally, we come to wine and unfortunately we don't have very good news to report.
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Although it is true that you can also find wine on sale at state stores much like the above spirits, the stock varies considerably store-to-store and range from the abysmal to some of the most beautiful collections you'll see (the same is true for spirits although our flexibility makes buying those much easier).
Had we not ventured out to explore other state stores other than the ones near us we may never have found wines from some of our favorite vineyards, and highly recommend you do the same.
Luckily, times are changing and the recent law changes mentioned above also means that grocery stores will be able to stock wine on their shelves! However, until this one becomes mainstream you will likely be sticking to the state stores until they get up and running in a competitive environment.
So, if you love wine like we do and want more than the Pittsburgh wine scene, we'd recommend heading to the following stores which we have found have the best collections in the city:
- 5956 Centre Avenue in East Liberty
- 974 Freeport Road in Aspinwall (north the Allegheny from Highland Park)
- 4801 McKnight Road (Rt #19) in the North Hills
- 8090 McIntyre Square Drive (further up Rt #19) in the North Hills
The above list is continually updated as we find new stores to shop at and so far have our favorite collections of both wine and spirits in the city. If you're looking for a large selection of wine from around the world, we highly recommend starting at one of these first.
Wanting to know if your favorite store carries your choice wine or spirit? You can also search the Fine Wine and Good Spirits website to find which locations near you carry your product, and also see if they have it in stock (or if they can ship it to your store for an added fee).
Overall, the above are three of our favorite ways to deal with Pennsylvania's archaic liquor laws and walk away with the items we want without feeling ripped off. Can it be better? Of course. Will it get better? Probably not any time soon. Until then, we'll play the game and by following the above tips we come out on top every time.