Thursday, February 02, 2006

Learning my ABC

Coming from a country where one can pop into any supermarket or off-licence and buy any sort of alcoholic drink they like (along with any mixers that go with them), I find it inconvenient to have to go to different stores for different types of drinks. I also find the whole brown paper bag thing really bizarre. To try and get closure, I decided to find out a bit more about it.

ABC Package StoreABC stands for Alcoholics Beverage Control. The ABC Commission is the body that regulates the sale of alcohol in the state. The laws are enforced by the Alcohol Law Enforcement division of the Dept. of Crime Control & Public Safety. Although one can buy wine (including port and sherry) and beer in ordinary supermarkets, one cannot buy hard liquor. These can only be purchased at specific outlets (ABC stores). The stores have restricted opening hours. Our's is open for about eight hours a day and is closed on Sundays.

There are only 154 ABC stores in the whole of NC (generally one per county, although built-up areas will have more (Raleigh has 11)). To put this into perspective, imagine 8 million people, spread across an area that is similar in size to England, with only 154 off-licences between them! In NC, the ABC stores do not sell wine or beer. I have been told that this separation of wine and beer from hard liquor is peculiar to NC.

So, what's going on? Why does the US government have such a paternalistic/nanny-state attitude to alcohol? Unsurprisingly, the answer seems to be that NC (and the rest of the country?) is still living with the consequences of prohibition.

The other great mystery is, why is it called a "package" store? The answer was provided for me by Wikipedia -- it's because they package the booze into brown paper bags.

Thus far, I have made two trips to the ABC store. It's an amazing store -- four aisles or more just for whisky. As the Scotch and Irish whiskies were more expensive than the bourbons, we decided to go native. I hadn't heard of most of the brands, so was gravitating towards the familiar labels of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, when I met a nice Canadian woman in the store who informed me that Jim Beam & Jack Daniels are only good "for cooking". She recommended 2 whiskies -- Knob Creek & Maker's Mark. I bought a bottle of Maker's Mark and a bottle of Elijah Craig, as well as a few other basics -- vodka, brandy, gin, rum and sambuca. The plan is to gradually build up the drinks cabinet until it contains a respectable range. I write this now with a long awaited glass of sambuca in my hand.

If you're interested, The ABC's of N.C. Liquor Laws is an easy to read article outlining a brief history of alcohol production in NC and is the fount of my knowledge.


Antigona said...

Wow, things are very differente here in California...!

Viola said...

How are they different? What's the alcohol situation it like in California?

crystal said...

Here in California, everything can be found at the local grocery store - beer, wine, whiskey, etc. But I lived in Oregon for a few years, and they are like NC - special stores for all but beer and wine. Maybe this weirdness has something to do with the paradoxical nature of alcohol ... that it can be safely enjoyed but can also lead to drunk driving and liver damage?

Lorraine said...

Deep in it's heart, the soul of America is partially informed by puritanism. And that does indeed give rise to a paternalistic/nanny vibe. But we make a mean apple pie.

Ren said...

This is pretty funny, we wanted to send a baby bassinett to my sister-in-law and we needed it packaged. I almost went to the ABC packaging store, thinking it sold packaging materials. I realized I was in the wrong place when I was in the parking lot! :-) Went to the UPS store instead, hee hee!

When we moved to North Carolina from Maryland, we noticed all the wine and beer in the grocery stores. In Maryland, I think you have beer in the stores, but wine is usually found in liquor stores, along with other alcoholic beverages. Never gave it much thought because we don't drink. What really puzzles me is the law that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays before noon. I guess it's part of the prohibition influence. I'll have to read up on that.

Anonymous said...

More from Sgt D:
When we were at Ft McClellan in Alabama (dismal place, no wonder it was named after one of the most profligate and useless generals of the American Civil War) in 1998, there was an ABC at the Commissary (PX). Our 300 British soldiers increased booze sales by 200% in a garrison of over 5,000! We were not drunk, but there is more of a culture of drinking in British society, and there seems to be a strong thread of puritan prohibitionism running through US society, particularly in the South. (Not that I noticed Jesus telling his disciples not to drink, but these ultras always seem to look to the Old Testament for their core hypocracies...)

Now Fort McC has closed to the military, and the US Army chemical Corps has moved to Missouri, I wonder if the booze situation is different? After all, I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the Bud brewery in St Louis... (The chap in charge of the "tasting" session was an old USN sailor, and we had a good old chat which lasted until the second tour group after ours arrived. Chris drove on the way back!)

Anyway, glad to hear that you're building up your stocks of spirits. It would be terrible to run out when the Brits come to town!

Ren said...

This just happened yesterday, and I just had to share it with you. I was driving by an ABC store, and my 3 year old son said, "Mommy, did you see the ABC sign? It was there at that restaurant!" :-)
Funny that if they wanted to keep people away from alcohol, why would they use a name that a preschooler could recognize!

markGmail said...

I know this is a dated thread, but since I just found it... two years later...
Here in PA the beer is sold in Beverage stores, which also sell soda and ice, and the Wine & Spirits are sold only in, you guessed it, Wine & Spirits stores... sheesh! I moved here from CA 15 years ago, and I still can hardly believe it. The problem is more than "closed on Sundays" logistical - the specific items that can be purchased are controlled/determined by the LCB... Anyhow Maker's Mark is my favorite and I'm looking forward to hearing of your experiences with it!