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BRAINTREE

Town reviews ban on beer by the pitcher

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / July 19, 2012
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There are over 50 restaurants and bars that sell beer in Braintree, but you cannot order a pitcher of beer in any of them.

According to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, state law allows for beer to be sold in pitchers only to parties of two or more. Braintree, however, goes beyond that and prohibits any sale of alcoholic beverages in pitchers.

But Braintree is reexamining its restrictions on serving beer in pitchers, and could bring its policy more in line with other South Shore communities. Officials will meet next Tuesday to review the regulations.

“The board is always looking at our regulations and reevaluating, [though] I wouldn’t expect a wholesale change in regulations,” said the town clerk, Joseph Powers, who is also chairman of Braintree’s Board of License Commissioners. 

Braintree is one of the few South Shore communities with any regulations on pitcher sales beyond the state’s guidelines. A survey of communities south of Boston found that Braintree was the only one that prohibits the practice altogether.

In Quincy, the sale of alcohol in pitchers is allowed to a party of two or more that is seated and consuming food. Two glasses must be served along with the pitcher, the regulation states.

In Hingham, Weymouth, Marshfield, Rockland, and Kingston, officials said there is no addition to the state’s policy, though the sale of alcohol in pitchers is not a common practice in those towns.

The Hingham Beer Works brew pub does sell beer by the pitcher, as well as growlers for patrons to take out, but Selectman Bruce Rabuffo said he does not see it done often.

“I’m assuming most people don’t want to sell it because they make more money selling it in cans, or . . . by the glass,” said Rabuffo. “I’ve never been anywhere where it’s a pitcher on a table, it’s always a bottle. . . but maybe I’m just not aware of it.”

In Marshfield, the town administrator, Rocco Longo,  said, “I can’t say if people are or aren’t doing it, but it hasn’t been an issue here. . . . The only place I’m aware of that [sells beer in pitchers] is Poopsie’s  in Pembroke. They sell beer by the pitcher when you buy pizza.”

Although that may be the case, Pembroke’s town administrator, Edwin Thorne,  said very few establishments sell pitchers.

“There might be one establishment in town that does,” he said, adding that the town follows the state’s regulation when it comes to the sale of pitchers.

In Plymouth and Cohasset, the sale of beer in pitchers follows the state guidelines. However, those towns are stricter in some areas, as neither allows “bring your own bottle,” in which restaurants can invite patrons to bring their own liquor to an establishment.

“For the most part, we go by the state. But there are a couple of things in our regulations that are a bit different,” said Lisa Johnson in the Plymouth town manager’s office.

The difference in laws, especially regarding pitcher policies, has created confusion for several Braintree establishments, which town officials say have been unknowingly violating the town-specific restriction.

“Braintree’s regulation is stricter than the state regulation,’’ said Powers. “There may be some establishments that have multiple destinations, not chains or franchises, but those that have some in other communities, they may be in compliance with state mandates, but not with Braintree’s.’’

Town officials outlined Braintree’s specific rules in a recent memo to all licensed establishments in town. However, the policy may soon change.

“A few establishments have reached out and [asked if there is] any way the board would consider [relaxing] the stricter regulation. I don’t know what we will do, but we will have a discussion,” Powers said.

For people who feel the regulation should be changed, “first, you shouldn’t be doing it [yet], but come to the hearing on July 24 and tell us your view of whether it makes sense for the board to ease up on their restriction for what the state does,” Powers said.

Other town-specific regulations, such as the prohibition of all beer specials, are set to stay in place.

“I think it is fair to say that there is a perception that Braintree is stricter. If that is the case, it was born out of a reality that was tragic and unfortunate,” Powers said.

The stricter status followed an alcohol-related death in 1983 at the Ground Round in Braintree. The victim was a 20-year-old Weymouth woman who was riding on the hood of a car in the parking lot, then fell off and was dragged under the car. The driver allegedly had several free beers as the result of a trivia game at the bar.

“Many of us that have grown up know of the tragedy that occurred in the Ground Round [in] the ’80s. That had a significant effect in the town of Braintree, where many of these [regulations] came from,” Powers said.

“It also caused the state to react. It is what caused the downfalls of happy hours. . . . That’s the unfortunate legacy, in addition that a life was lost,” Powers said.

Braintree is not alone in looking to scale back some of its laws.

In Scituate, selectmen said they are looking into the town’s penalties for liquor license violators, which range from suspension of a license to revocation.

“It’s an ongoing process,” said Selectman Joseph Norton. “We have been reviewing the policy. . . . Sometimes our penalties are more severe than the state’s, so we’re trying to bring that into line if we can.”

Though the policies and penalties differ from one town to the next, all communities stressed that policies are handed out on a case-by-case basis, and each town follows the state’s laws.

“We just follow the letter of the law by the state,” said Jennifer Oram,  assistant to the Cohasset town manager. “Every hearing and license is considered very strictly.”

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.

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