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Farmers Markets Get Boozy Thanks To PA's Relaxed Liquor Laws

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Whiskey, vodka and moonshine are among the products sold at the McLaughlin Distillery tent at the Market Square Farmers Market in downtown Pittsburgh. It's the first full season distilleries and breweries are allowed to participate in the markets.

For the first time, shoppers at farmers markets around the region can grab some whiskey with their watermelon. Due to a 2016 change in state laws, distilleries, breweries and meaderies are able to sell their products in Pennsylvania farmers markets and food expos.

Distiller Kim McLaughlin, of McLaughlin Distillery in Sewickley, Pa., said he jumped on the opportunity to sell his flavored moonshine, bourbon and whiskey. He vends at a number of markets around the region, including one downtown in Market Square on Thursdays.

“It’s been great,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes you get people who really can’t believe their eyes, and then they walk up (and say), ‘Is this legal?’ Yeah, it’s legal.”

In addition to the permit and proof of insurance required by markets, McLaughlin said he filed with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to obtain a special permit for farmers markets.

“(PLCB) just wants to know where we’re going to be, the hours of operation,” McLaughlin said. “So they can do their checks and make sure we’re doing everything by the books.”

Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 39 last summer changing many of the responsibilities of the PLCB. Among them were relaxed laws for alcohol sales of hard liquor at outdoor venues.

Wineries were already able to sell their products at farmers markets, but were given the option to apply for shipping licenses and resale permits, which most notably allows for the sale of wine at grocery stores.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Hard ciders are also now permitted at farmers markets and food expos in Pennsylvania, thanks to recently relaxed liquor laws in the state. Pictured are apples from Woolf Farms in Ohio.

Leigh White, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which organizers the Market Square exchange, said the new alcohol vendors -- two distilleries and a meadery, so far -- blend well with their growing array of available products. 

“They bring a whole different element to the market,” White said. “The nice thing is, most of these products are not the local state stores carry.”

Beaver County Farmers Market President Tim Haffey said he’s also heard from alcohol vendors interested in selling at some of their six farms. He said the location of each market may complicate the sales.

“Three of our markets are at churches,” Haffey said. “We’re still having a hard sell on getting the distilleries into (those) markets.”

He said Beaver Brewery in Beaver Falls, Pa. is interested in selling at some of their markets, too.

Many regional farmers' markets, including all Pittsburgh Citiparks locations, re-open this weekend.