International Wine and Food Festival Extends $10 Discount for DC Foodies
Weekly Blog Round Up

Beer News, Good and Bad

20071113savor_2 I've got some good news and some bad news for DC craft beer fans. The good news is that, thanks to the overwhelming response last summer, Savor is back for 2009! On Saturday, May 30th, the Brewers Association will be hosting 65 of America's best craft brewers at the National Building Museum, each featuring a selection of their finest beers, specially paired with an assortment of sweet and savor appetizers, meant to highlight the range of culinary possibilities in food and beer pairing. I attended last year, and it was a blast — if you are a beer and food lover with a hundred bucks to spare, keep your calender clear.

The bad news is, if you come upon a beer you are particularly like, you are going to have a much harder time finding it. Back in October the DC government, in an effort to fight vagrancy and litter, put forward a bill banning the sale of single beers in retail shops. The bill passed in Wards 4, 7 and 8 late last year, and a similar ban for Wards 2, 6, and parts of Ward 1 went through this past Christmas Eve. Effectively, this means that come February 10th, it will be illegal to sell half pints of liquor, or beer in any package less than 70 oz in volume, in nearly every part of the city.

Beerban_2 Tired of dealing with empty 40s of Old English and Bud 22s littering their streets, many ward councilmen expressed great support for this bill, as has Mayor Fenty. As Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells put it, "More often than not, single sales of alcohol are bought so they can be consumed as soon as you walk out the door – turning alleys and backyards into public restrooms and leaving empty bottles strewn through our neighborhoods."

I'm not going to go so far as to say Mr. Wells is wrong, but he is certainly making one broad-ass generalization. Claiming that the majority of beers purchased as singles are consumed illegally is extremely cynical and narrow minded. As most of you probably know, the majority of high end craft beers are sold as singles, whether in 12 oz, 750 ml, or any number of other standard sizes. The singles moratorium dictates that no beer may be broken out of a manufacturer's package of less than 70 oz, meaning that the only way to get, say, Dogfish Head's beloved 120 Minute IPA, is to buy an entire 24 bottle case, which will run you upwards of $200! Happen to be a fan of Chimay or Duvel, those longtime ambassador's of Belgian beer? Hope your prepared to drink a lot of it, as those adorable little four-packs are also on the chopping block. Of course, you can still get all your faves at your better beer bars, but you'll be spending two to three times retail price, and that doesn't address the problems of the home cook who loves to pair beer as well as wine.

Speaking of wine, the moratorium doesn't touch it. Call me crazy, but isn't that a bit hypocritical?  Oh, I know that wine is a rich person's drink, and rich people would never do something so irresponsible as to litter... but still, it's kinda suspicious. Makes a man wonder if there weren't a few oenophiles on the drafting committee who didn't want their rights infringed upon. Funny, that.

On the bright side, the bill does allow stores to petition for an exemption (the shop I work at is in the process of applying right now — fingers crossed!).  That notwithstanding, competition and supply are going to suffer, and the city is going to lose thousands of dollars a year in tax revenue to fed up consumer's crossing the Virginia border for their beer fix. Were we talking about one part of a comprehensive, proactive plan to combat the city's many ills, then I'd say sign me up. As it is, the singles ban is a lazy, classist, and even rather racist approach towards covering up the aesthetic portion of an endemic problem, which I feel does a disservice to the residents of DC.

I admit, I may be way to close to this issue to see it clearly, so I wonder what you think. Please chime in with comments, and feel free to let me know if you think I am way off base here. Also, if you live in Wards 2 or 6, remember that date: February 10th. You'll probably see some great beer sales in your neighborhood in the preceding weeks.



Even 4 packs under 70oz are restricted? That's absurd! Grrr.

Rob Rutledge

The exact wording of the law is "A licensee under an off-premise retailer's license ... shall not:
(1) Divide a manufacturer's package of more than one container of beer, malt liquor, or ale, to sell an individual container of the package if the capacity of the individual container is 70 ounces or less; or
(2) Sell, give, offer, expose for sale, or deliver an individual container of beer, malt liquor, or ale with a capacity of 70 ounces or less."

Yeah, that covers most four packs, and I'm sorry to say, some six-packs as well.

Beer me a calculator

Someone check my math, but at 11.3 oz a bottle, a six pack of Hoegaarden and Leffe and some other European beers clock in at 67.8 ounces a six pack. This an extremely shortsighted law.


Which "parts of Ward 1?"

Rob Rutledge

Mount Pleasant, specifically:

"For purposes of this section, 'Mt. Pleasant' means the area defined as ANC-1D, delimited by Piney Branch Parkway to the north, 16th Street to the east, Harvard Street to the south, and Adams Mill and Klingle Roads to the west, on the effective date of this section."

John K.

Such are the perils of nanny-state governance. C'mon down to Virginia where the guv'mint is a little more "toothless.". We're still selling singles.


Despite enjoying a fine crafted brew on (many an) occasion, I actually agree with the intent of the law, although the limit could have been 61oz. My alley is littered with the remains of singles. Perhaps more MD "wine" sales coming? I will be interested to see where the exemptions are allowed (high end retailers curiously close to Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle perhaps?)

Rob Rutledge

Yeah, John, but good luck trying to buy a bottle of Single Malt Scotch in one of our ABC Stores. Sure, you can buy beer in the 7-11 here (I live in VA, too) until midnight, but the selection of hard stuff is slim.

I agree with the intent too, MoDC, but think they are going about it all wrong. Maybe the city could spend some of the Inauguration windfall to implement some sort of, I don't know, education programs, or maybe open a few more homeless shelters? If litter and vagrancy are really towards the top of the problem list, I think these sort of steps would be far more effective, less invasive, and a damn sight more compassionate.

Anyway, I don't think it's going to work. But we shall see.

Mike Bober


I'm pretty sure you're misreading the law when it comes to four- and six-packs.

Look at it again.

Section 1 says that no package may be divided to sell singles if those singles are less than 70 oz. in volume.

Section 2 refers to individual containers, not packages.

Nothing in the sections you quote says anything about an inability to sell four- or six-packs of beer with a combined volume of less than 70 oz.

Is there another section to the law? If not, multi-bottle packs are exempt.

I live in Ward 6 - just off the H Street Corridor - and we've had a moratorium on the sales of singles in place since October of 2007. Since that time, we've seen a significant improvement - less trash blowing down the street, fewer people passed out holding half-pint bottles or with empty beer cans in hand, and far fewer people relieving themselves in the alley that runs alongside our building.

The exemption process puts the decision in the hands of the local ANCs' ABC boards - which means that any store that has a positive relationship with its neighborhood should be able to obtain one.

I understand your closeness to the issue, Rob, but I think some of your assertions about the results of the ban are incorrect.

Rob Rutledge

See, that's the thing Mike - it actually doesn't say anything about the word "single." Instead, it refers to an "individual container of the package." As I understand it, a case ("manufacturer's package") is divided into "individual containers," with various levels of subdivision. The choice of the number of "70 ounces" would be arbitrary otherwise, as the target beers never come in sizes over 40 ounces. I think what they are trying to do is prevent distributors from packaging 22 and 24 oz beers into two-packs (as it stands, they are already scrambling to create three and four packs). I'd be open to hearing from anyone else who has a better handle on legalese, but that's the only way that justifies the convoluted wording.

The situation in your neighborhood is certainly encouraging. My only point is, most of those people, regardless of whether they are holding beer cans or not, are still passing out in the streets somewhere. On a broader scale, I think the system will fall apart - as the persons in question run out of places to go, they will likely stay where they are, and switch to an equivalently cheap inebriant (Thunderbird, anyone?).

As for exceptions - I agree, and God willing the ABC and ANCs will be just and quick in doling them out. All I know is, once you get bureaucracy involved, things are rarely quick. Anything that delays or inhibits a level playing field, especially in this economy, is unfair, especially considering that the parties being penalized have not necessarily done anything illegal to date.

Again, the law is pretty convoluted, so anyhow is knows for certain, please throw in your two cents.

The comments to this entry are closed.