Four of the Pope in Philly beers at the P.O.P.E. bar Credit: Danya Henninger

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How big of a year was it for booze in Pennsylvania? Well, it’s causing major tension in the state capital. Sure, the budget is being held up by all kinds of things, but liquor is one of them.

Alcohol also caused more controversy in Point Breeze and some in South Philly because of beer gardens. But it wasn’t all craziness. The pope got his own beer and so did Joe Paterno.

Here’s a look at the top booze stories of 2015:

The budget is six months late because…booze


Pennsylvania has been going nearly six months without a budget, causing schools, social programs and nonprofits to struggle, and some of the blame must be directed toward the state’s lawmakers’ inability to agree about alcohol. Republicans want the system to be privatized (the state would give up control of liquor and we’d be able to get better selections of alcohol and liquor and beer in the same stores) or at least modernized. Democrats are OK with some modernization — extended state store hours, more stores, booze delivery into the state.

In June, the Republican-dominated House passed a privatization bill, which Governor Tom Wolf quickly vetoed. The House passed another privatization bill in November. That bill is still around but probably going nowhere. In December, the Senate crafted a Wolf-approved modernization bill, keeping the state stores intact but allowing more flexible hours and limited wine sales at grocery stores among a bunch of other things. The House responded by saying it would create its own modernization plan. So it’s gridlock!    

The Point Breeze Beer Garden drama

The controversial garden is currently open
The controversial garden is currently open Credit: Danya Henninger

New developments have tended to cause controversy in Point Breeze in recent years. The Point Breeze Pop-Up was no exception. Shortly after its opening, some 150 people packed into a neighborhood church with most of them asking to shut the beer garden down. That request became reality, thanks to the L&I. The city organization first shut down the Point Breeze Pop-Up in early July because of improper zoning. When owner John Longacre received the cease and desist order he said the inspector said he had no idea why L&I was shutting the beer garden down. It reopened after Longacre got an injunction from a local judge. Within two weeks, L&I appealed the injunction and it had to close once more. The Point Breeze Pop-Up reopened again in late July and this time stayed open.    

The other beer garden drama, at Le Bok Fin

Lindsey Scannapieco’s company, Scout Ltd, bought the former site of Bok Technical High School this summer for $1.75 million. About four weeks later, in August, she opened a beer garden on the building’s roof deck. It was called Le Bok Fin, a nod to famous French restaurant Le Bec Fin. And that’s when things started getting crazy.

A Philadelphia teacher wrote a blog post condemning the former school’s use as a beer garden that led to a heated online discussion. The group Philadelphia Jobs With Justice started a Facebook page encouraging people to give Le Bok Fin one-star Yelp reviews. Meanwhile, people who actually lived in the neighborhood didn’t really care. They mostly supported the beer garden. So did alumni of the school. Dozens of them showed up on the beer garden’s last day in September to enjoy drinks and the view.

Scannapieco said the beer garden would not be back next year. Scout intends to turn the former Bok building into a “makerspace” for creatives and businesspeople.

Beer distributors start selling 12-packs

Beer 12 pack
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some liquor restrictions loosened in spite of the gridlocked legislature. Since pretty much forever, beer distributors had only been able to sell in large quantities, like cases and kegs. That changed in March. The Liquor Control Board announced beer distributors could start selling 12-packs and 18-packs. One distributor called it the “biggest thing to happen to beer since 1933.”

Phillies offer hard liquor at baseball games

Citizens Bank
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of a season in which the Phillies would finish with the worst record in baseball, the Phillies took an unprecedented step in Major League Baseball by starting the sale of hard liquor. Fans at Citizens Bank Park were allowed to down stiff drinks, as well as wine, while watching terrible baseball.

Coffee meets beer

Warmth irish coffee
Credit: Danya Henninger

The concept of a coffee shop that transitions into a bar has long existed in Europe. The trend is starting to pick up more in U.S. cities, including Philadelphia. Double Knot and Hungry Pigeon are among new or soon-to-open places trying to combine the coffee shop feel with a bar.

Local breweries were all about the pope

Four of the Pope in Philly beers at the P.O.P.E. bar
Four of the Pope in Philly beers at the P.O.P.E. bar Credit: Danya Henninger

Pope Francis’ visit in September led to the brewing of six different pope beers: Cape May Brewing’s YOPO (You Only Pope Once), Manayunk Brewing’s Papal Ale, 2nd Story’s Pater Noster, Iron Hill Chestnut Hill’s Pap-Ale, Forest and Main’s White Smoke Saison and Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Holy Wooder. Holy Wooder got the most attention. Word was that St. Charles Borromeo Seminary put in an order for a keg during Pope Francis’ visit.  

Joe Paterno gets his beer

The pope wasn’t the only old man to have a beer created after him this year. In August, Duquesne Beer introduced the Paterno Legacy Series. Before the beer was even released, Duquesne pre-sold 40,000 cases and after a month had sold millions of cans. The success continued throughout football season for the Vienna lager beer that compares to Yuengling.  

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...