Pennsylvania liquor stores offer more than meets the eye | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pennsylvania liquor stores offer more than meets the eye

The selection runs much deeper than what’s on the shelves

Fine Wine & Good Spirits store, in East Liberty
Fine Wine & Good Spirits store, in East Liberty

Wandering around a liquor store in another state is like being a kid in a candy store — one that’s full of new and wonderful candies that you never even knew existed. For better or worse, in Pennsylvania’s state-run system, every Fine Wine & Good Spirits store feels more or less the same. Some are larger and flashier, but the core selection is fairly predictable. And with the latest push to privatize stalled once again, that system isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

But it’s not so bad. The selection in Pennsylvania stores runs deeper — much deeper, in fact — than what you see on the shelves.

As Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board spokesperson Elizabeth Brassell explains, “There are basically three major channels through the PLCB.” The first channel, the physical stores, is hindered by the need to fill limited shelf space with only the most popular items. The other two channels, however, offer wine snobs and boozehounds a plethora of additional possibilities.

“The PLCB maintains an e-commerce store, which works the same way as any online shopping site,” says Brassell. Among the store’s 2,500 items (about half of which are exclusively available online) are a greatly expanded selection of single-malt scotches, a huge variety of bitters and many offerings from small craft distilleries. Fill your online shopping cart and, for a small fee, you can have your order delivered to your local liquor store or directly to your house. This is also the place to enter into limited-release lotteries for rare items like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.

The final option requires a bit more work. More than 50,000 additional wines and spirits are available as Special Liquor Orders (SLOs). Though still ordered through the state stores, these products are brought in by third-party vendors who deliver your bottles to the store of your choice. There are a few caveats on SLOs: They require a 50 percent deposit upfront and often demand a minimum order (sometimes 12 bottles at a time). However, if there is a libation you just can’t live without, SLO is the way to go.

And if all else fails, just ask. “We constantly get requests for new products,” notes Brassell, and she says PLCB will do everything in its power to make them available through one of the three channels. Even if you don’t quite know what product you’re looking for (“it was a Spanish gin, and I think the label was yellow …”), Brassell promises they’ll attempt to track it down and bring it into the state.

When it comes to buying alcohol (recent changes permitting wine sales in grocery stores notwithstanding), Pennsylvania often feels like a bit of a dinosaur. But look beyond the shelves — you may be surprised by the possibilities.

To browse the full selection and place online orders, visit To place an SLO, call 1-800-332-7522.