February 10, 2004

C.U. Students 'Kick the Keg'

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The law that New York Governor George Pataki put into effect Nov. 22 may have permanently removed kegs from many college parties across the state. The “keg law”, which involves registering all kegs of beer and their purchasers, is aimed at curtailing underage drinking. At the bill-signing ceremony for the law, Jeanine Pirro, Westchester County district attorney, called underage drinking “an epidemic.” She added, “the drug of choice among youths is alcohol, and the drink of choice, by far, is beer.”

This legislation seems to be a reaction to a pattern of keg parties in rural areas of New York. In a New York Times report of the bill signing, Wayne Bennett, former state police superintendent nominee, said most underage-drinking parties take place in remote areas where law enforcement only find abandoned kegs after the fact.

With the new registration procedure required to purchase a keg, an effective “fingerprint” will now be placed on each one.

Pat Moe, owner of the Finger Lakes Beverage Center, explained that “the new keg law is a registration form. You gotta register the keg — which means your name has to go on there, where the keg was bought, what type of keg it is, whether it’s a half keg or a quarter keg, what brand it is — all that information has to be put on there.”

To relate the message about the responsibility of buying a keg for a party, “You also have to read a statement that says if you serve this to minors, you’re held accountable for it,” Moe said.

In addition to the registration form and declaration against supplying minors with beer, there is a $75 deposit for each keg. “That fee is supposed to be surrendered to New York State if the keg is not returned within 30 days,” Moe said. “But NYS is looking at extending that time period to 90 to 120 days, because basically the only person that they’re hurting with that 30 days is the everyday guy that has a kegerator and wants to enjoy that out of his own home. He’s now forced to drink that whole keg in 30 days,” he added.

As for the Cornell community, the new law has been effective to some Collegetown residents who have thrown parties recently.

“We threw a party two weeks ago, and we didn’t have a keg. We knew about the new law, but we didn’t really research it that much — we just went off rumor and conjecture, and had already determined that it was going to be too much of a hassle and we didn’t want the responsibility, because we knew freshmen were going to be at our party,” said Brian Schartz ’04. “Also, we don’t have a lot of people living at our house, so the $75 fee was already looking pretty high,” he added.

Other recent party hosts, however, were willing to fill out the registration form and deposit the $75 to get a keg. “We throw parties about once a month, and we always buy kegs for our parties,” said Brian Howard ’04. The responsibility associated with serving minors was not a factor. “Since we’re all seniors [living in the house], most of the people we invite are seniors, and most of them are 21,” he said.

Furthermore, Howard did not think the law’s execution was sufficient to accomplish its goal. “The fact of the matter is that when we got the keg and brought it outside, the label was already falling off it a little bit, so [the salesperson] was just like, ‘you guys can just take this label off.’ It’s still in my glove compartment right now. So the keg didn’t have a label on it at the party.

“They really don’t stick to the kegs. The kegs are cold, and when you bring them outside there’s condensation and they try to stick masking tape to it, and they just instantly fall off.”

Though the law has not deterred all students from purchasing kegs for parties, keg sales have fallen at beer retailers in Ithaca.

“We went from carrying 130 kegs down to 30 kegs [for a weekend],” said Moe. “When the law first came into effect we were hardly moving any kegs. I sat on 30 kegs for the first two or three weeks when this thing went into effect and everybody was griping about it.”

While off-campus social functions have felt the effects of the keg laws, fraternities may have not noticed the same impact.

“When the law did take effect, it did not directly affect the fraternities,” said Jeff Massa ’05, president of the Interfraternity Council. “This semester caterers will be able to serve alcohol in fraternity houses, so they will be distributing beer from the kegs they buy. There aren’t actually any occasions in which a fraternity can have kegs in their house. For many houses it’s against their national fraternity rules to have a keg inside their facility.”

Schartz and Howard, who plan to continue throwing parties in Collegetown, remain divided on the keg issue.

“I’ll say that at our next party we will have a keg,” Howard said. “It’s another stupid, useless scare tactic by New York State legislation to try and ineffectively stop college-age drinking, which just isn’t going to happen,” he added.

Schartz said, “I don’t think we’re going to have a keg at our next party, but if we do, we’re thinking of going to Pennsylvania to get it.”

Alternatives to kegs are also coming to the forefront of retailers’ minds.

“I think the breweries had some inside information, because they were coming out with the bulkier packages — Molson came out with the 55-pack — [just as the law went into effect],” Moe said. “But the cans are a real pain in the butt. People are buying all these cans and I think people are starting to steer back towards the kegs again. I’m starting to see the keg sales starting to increase again.”

Other retailers have seen their business steer away from kegs, but the law may not be curtailing underage drinking.

“After seeing the ID tags on the kegs,” said Leo Teeter at Reynold’s Variety store. “We’ve had people leave here and go to the liquor store to buy hard stuff.”

Archived article by Tony Apuzzo