State Liquor Stores

Glenn Reynolds points to a story by Doug Winship about Washington State’s liquor stores running out of, um, liquor just in time for the July 4th weekend during which all good Americans celebrate their country’s independence by getting hammered. Naturally, all liquor stores in Washington State are run by the government of the state of Washington who 1) screwed up royally and 2) don’t really care because, after all, they don’t have a lot of competition.

While I’ve seldom had difficulty getting the beverages needed to restock our bar at Virginia’s ABC stores, having a state-run monopoly does have its quirks.  For example, I went in the other day to procure some Angostura bitters.  You know the brand that’s synonymous with bitters and that’s a key ingredient in many classic cocktails.  It seems that, for reasons unknown to the manager of my local ABC store, the Commonwealth has decided not to stock Angostura bitters but rather Peychaud’s.  Both are esteemed brands that have been around nearly two hundred years but Peychaud’s is much less, er, bitter than Angostura.  True connoisseurs of such things, of which I am decidedly not one, tend to keep a supply of both on hand as the properties of each go better with different cocktails.

Certainly, if this were the worst thing the Commonwealth’s government were doing, I’d be quite pleased.  But there’s no obvious reason why private individuals shouldn’t be able to open liquor stores and supply a wider variety of products.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Janis Gore says:

    Fix your plural on “properties,” Dr. Joyner.

    You’re a better man than that.

  2. DC Loser says:

    I, too, have my pet peeves with the Virginia ABC stores. Since you work in the district, I would recommend you visit Calvert-Woodley on Connecticut Ave for good variety and prices. Thank goodness DC and some MD counties don’t believe in government monopolies.

  3. Here in CA you can buy booze everywhere. Macallan 12 year for $32.89 at Costco.

  4. I’ve always found the whole logic strained: liquor is so bad only the state can sell it!

    And yes, I was reminded about how different things are back west when I was in AZ and CA where you can buy liquor at the grocery store.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Washington state has really screwy alcohol laws.

    I hate the state run liquor stores, because of the poor selection.

    And, I hate that supermarkets sell wine, since it means that specialized wine stores are few and far between. The supermarkets just don’t so as good a job picking wines.

  6. Another factor is the employees at the WA State liquor stores are union members (SEIU) and make more than the average retail clerk ($11.35-15.30/hour) and all have medical benefits. The stores sell hard liquor and wine, though wine is available elsewhere like grocery stores, with the local Fred Meyer (Krogers) having a larger wine selection than the state store across the street ($9.59-12.41/hour). Restaurants and bars are told what liquor store to buy their hard liquor from. That store gets its booze from the massive state distribution center, where the screw up has occurred. If a new product wants to be sold in the state, the state has to agree to carry it.

    Some stores are run by the state, while others (in historically smaller towns) are “contract stores,” privately owned. My county of 700K has 28 liquor stores, 10 being contract stores (plus 2 stores on military bases).

  7. Matt says:

    WEll chalk this up as another thing I don’t want gov’t running without some form of private competition..

  8. just me says:

    Add me to the list of people who don’t really understand why liquor can only be sold in state run stores.

    The state I grew up in didn’t have state run stores-anyone one could get a license and sell liquors, although there were limitations on days and times.

    I am not much of a drinker at all, so can’t say much about whether my current’s state’s stores are well run and well stocked. Personally I think the state monopoly is all about collecting the profits and the taxes.

  9. John Burgess says:

    The rea$on$ the $tate$ keep a monopoly $hould be clear.

    They might try to justify it with some sort of quasi-prohibitionist crap, but it’s all about the money.

    There’s enough room for corruption in just the state’s licensing of stores that sell alcohol. It’s too much temptation to put the whole enterprise in the hands of bureaucrats.

    PS: Stick with the Angostura. Peychaud’s is just a little chi-chi.

  10. hln says:

    What? You can only buy liquor from the state? Hahahahah. I think I’ll happily stay in the midwest.


  11. UlyssesUnbound says:

    Moving from the Midwest, where liquor was available in almost any store (but not on Sundays), to South Carolina–where until recently bars could only use the “airplane” mini bottles to make drinks–has been a strange transition.

    The strangest? Liquor stores closing at the latest at 7 pm. Often earlier than that.

    Thanks South Carolina Government! I didn’t need that after work martini after all.

  12. sam says:

    New Hampshire has state-run booze stores — Live Free or Die. OTH, I once walked into an ice-cream parlor up there, and found that, in addition to Rocky Road, I could also purchase a handgun from a wide array of models.