It's easy to gripe about the state's monopoly on wine and spirits. Maybe even too easy, at least where the selection is concerned.
"The biggest misconception people have [of the system] is that when they go to the state store, they think that's all that's available in the state of Pennsylvania," says Rob McCaughey, of Dreadnought Wines in the Strip.
In fact, McCaughey says, "There is so much available in this state." You just have to know how to ask for it. That's where the state's Special Liquor Order, or SLO, comes in.
SLO products are not found in state stores; instead, they're listed on the finewineandgoodspirits.com site and shipped directly by the state's 65-plus distributors, including Dreadnought Wines.
Once you've verified the wine or spirit is available, says Dreadnought co-owner Deb Mortillaro, "You place the order [in person at a state store or by calling 800-332-7522], you put a deposit down, the product comes, you pay the rest, and then you take it home." Orders can be delivered in as little as a few days, though sometimes they can take over a month.
Because distributors can't add the cost of shipping to the listed price per bottle, they often require minimum purchases — ranging from a single bottle up to a full case, depending on the label — for SLO shipments.
There are other catches, too. The PLCB's website isn't very intuitive; misspell a desired bottle by even a letter and you'll have no results. "It would be nice if it were more user-friendly," says Mortillaro.
One way to improve the system, she says, would be to let customers know it exists. Instead of airing ads "telling you that you can come get booze for your Super Bowl party," Mortillaro says, "they should advertise the expanded products that were available."
Even so, SLO gives you a chance to make your own choices. Sometimes it's OK to ignore what the "Chairman" selects for you.