Brook’s High License Law
(Pennsylvania Liquor Law)

May 4, 2013

This document highlights some of the laws regulating alcohol and licensing in Pennsylvania before prohibition. Some post prohibition law is here too. As I have cited the Brook Law in other areas of this work I have chosen to use that name for this page.

Allegheny County Liquor Law of 1872
An act to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors in the County of Allegheny

An Act of Assembly of April 3, 1872 (P.L. 804) established the Allegheny County Liquor Law. Provisions: Licenses to sell alcohol were granted by the County Treasurer. Only hotels, inn, taverns, and eating-houses were permitted to sell retail. Eating-houses could only sell beer. Sales to minors and apprentices were prohibited. Bars had to close at midnight and all day Sunday. The Brook’s Law of 1887 repealed the County law.

Assembly of License Laws for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Digby’s compilation of laws up to 1906

Rules Regulating the Practice of
State and Federal Courts Sitting at Pittsburgh, and of the Courts having Jurisdiction of Appeals Therefrom
and of
The Department of State and Federal Government
Together With an Index to the Special Acts of Assembly in force in
Allegheny County, etc.
Compiled by Percival G. Digby
Librarian of the Allegheny County Law Library,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Published by J. Oscar Emrich, Law Books and Book Binding
426 Bakerwell Building
Pittsburgh, Pa.
Page 207

Rule 1: Licenses Granted for One Year From May 1.
All licenses granted shall be for one year from the first day of May and shall expire on the first day of May of the following year without regard to the date at which the same was issued.

Rule 2: Applications for Retail Licenses will be Heard on the Second Monday in March.
Applications for retail Licenses shall be heard on the second Monday of March in every year, and a hearing of such applications shall be continued for such length of time as may be necessary to dispose of them.

Rule 3: Remonstrances for Special Petitions.
All petitions on favor of, and remonstrances against the granting of any license shall be in writing, and shall be filed with the clerk at least three days before the time fixed for the hearing, but no charge shall be made for such filing.

Rule 4: Clerk Shall Issue Licenses – Form of License.
When an application shall be granted by the Court, and the requirements of the Act of 13th 1887, as to payment of license fee, filing the Treasurer’s receipt, giving bond, etc., having been fully complied with, the Clerk shall issue a license in the following for, duly attested, and under the seal of the Court.

Form not yet added to this document

The following regulations must be observed by licensees in conducting their business:

First. All wholesalers and bottlers shall close their places of business not later than 9 o’clock A.M. on Saturday and 7 o’clock on other days, and shall not open them before 6 o’clock A.M.

Second. All retail dealers shall keep their bars closed as follows:

In the Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, from 11:45 o’clock P.M. to 5:00 o’clock A.M.

In the City of McKeesport, from 11:00 o’clock P.M. to 5:00 o’clock A.M.

In the Boroughs, from 10:30 o’clock P.M. to 5:00 o’clock A.M.

In the Townships, from 10:00 o’clock P.M. to 5:30 o’clock A.M.

Third. During the time the bar is to remain closed (as provided by Rule Second) no malt, vinous, or spirituous liquors may be sold or furnished on the licensed premises.

Fourth. No free lunch shall be served by any licensee. The furnishing of crackers, cheese and pretzels as a relish to patrons of the bar will not be considered a violation of this regulation, but the supply must not go beyond the articles mentioned.

Fifth. Liquors shall not be furnished by any retail dealer on trust, directly or indirectly.

Sixth. Licensees must not have or permit upon the licensed premises any vocal or instrumental music for the purpose of attracting or retaining customers; nor shall they have or keep thereon any slot machine, weighting machine, blowing or lifting machine, or any similar device, or keep or maintain any bulletin of the stock market, races or games.

Seven. Retailers shall not furnish liquors in buckets or any substitute therefore.

The violation or disregard of any of the above regulations will be considered as sufficient ground for the refusal of further license to the offender.

No. 32 March Session, 1899.

Rule 5: Applications for License Must be Filed Three Weeks before the First Monday in March.
Applications for licenses may be filled with the Clerk of the Court, three weeks before the first Monday of September, 1887, and will then be heard; but after that date all applications for license shall be filed at least three weeks before the first Monday of March in each and every year.

Rule 6: Requirements in Applications for Wholesale Licenses.
Wholesale dealer, brewers, distillers, rectifiers, compounders, storekeepers, agents and bottlers, applying for license to transact business under the provisions of Act of Assembly, approved 24th May, 1887, shall in their petition conform to the requirements of the first, second, third, fourth and tenth paragraphs of Section 5 of the Act of Assemble, approved 13th May, 1887, P.L., page 109-110.

The petition shall also give the names of no less than two reputable resident freeholders of the County, who will be sureties on the bond of the application, and a statement that each of said sureties is a bona fide owner of real estate in the County worth over and above all incumbeances the sum of two thousand dollars and that it would sell for that much at public sale.

Rule 7: Rules 1, 3, 5 Shall Apply to Applications for Wholesale License – Will be Heard on the First Monday of April.
The rules of Court in relation to retail dealers shall apply to applications under the Act of Assembly of 24th of May, 1887, as time of filing petition, advertisement thereof, and the date from which licenses shall run, and also as to petitions in favor of or remonstrances against the granting of a license; such applications will be heard on the first Monday of April in each year, and the hearing shall be continued for such length as may be necessary to dispose of all the applications.

Rule 8: Transfers – Requirements in Petition – Notice of Hearing – Requirements.
Where applications shall be made for the transfer of a license the petition shall set forth particularly the facts upon which such application is based, so as to bring in within the requirements of the Act of Assembly relative thereto, approved 20th April 1858, Sect. 7, P.L. 366, and shall be verified by affidavits of both parties. The petition and bond of the applicant shall conform in all respects to the statutory requirements and rules of Court in relation to the granting of an original license.

Upon presentation of such petition and bond the County shall fix a time for a hearing not less than ten days thereafter, notice of which shall be published at the cost of the applicant by one advertisement at least one week before the time of the hearing in the two newspapers last designated for publication of application for license.

At which time persons opposing the transfer as well as parties, shall be heard unless the hearing be continued for cause to a day certain.

Rule 9: Form of Notice of Application of Transfer to be Posted on Front Door of Premises – Times of Transfer Hearings – Fees in Case of Sheriff’s Sales, etc.

During the entire period in which the premises are closed pending as application for a transfer of a license, a plainly written or printed notice upon at least thirteen by eight inches (or a size of an ordinary sheet of legalcap) shall be posted conspicuously upon the front door of the premises, which notice shall state that the premises are closed pemding an application for a transfer of the license from the holder thereof, naming him, to the proposed transferee, whose name and address shall be given, and the notice shall give the number and tern of the case and the time of the hearing. An exact copy of the notice shall be produced at the hearing with proof theat this rule has been complied with.

The following form may be used:

Closed pending application for transfer of license at No. ___
Session ___, from ___ to ___, whose address is ___, to be heard by the Court on ___, at ___ A.M.

During the period in which licenses may be transferred, hearings will be held only on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

No hearings for the transfer of licenses, except in case of death, will be heard between January first and July first in each year.

In all cases of Sheriff’s sale, bankrupt’s sale, or other abandonment by the original licenses, application may be made for the granting of a new license which shall be issued only on payment of the proportion of the license fee for the unexpired term.

Percival Goodspeed Digby (b. 1863)

List of Acts of Assembly
Pennsylvania Laws Regulating Liquor Licensing

1858 April 20, (P.L. 365) Transfers of liquor license in case of death.

1865, February 28, (P.L. 236) Ale & Malt Manufacturing.

1872, April 3, (P.L. 843)

1878, March 28, (P.L. 9) Females must not be employed.

1893, June 20, (P.L. 474) Distillers selling packages over 40 gallons are not required to take out a county license.

1887, May 24, (P.L. 194) Wholesale. This act did not repeal the qualifications of applicants for wholesale licenses of P.L. 843.

1891, June 9, (P.L. 257) Wholesale

1887, May 13, (P.L. 108) Retail (Brook’s Law)

1897, July 15, (P.L. 298) Transfers of liquor license in case of death.

1897, July 30, (P.L. 464)

Brewing Companies may hold more than one license.

Allegheny County Alcoholic Beverage Tax of 2007
The Allegheny County Drink Tax

Allegheny County Council passed an ordinance on December 4, 2007 for a tax on the sale of alcohol at retail. The law became effective on January 1, 2008. The tax was initially set at 10% of the sale price but was reduced to 7% on December 2, 2008. It became effective on January 1, 2009.

The Brook High License Law
Act of Assembly, May 13, 1887 (P.L. 108)

The legislative name of the act was: An act to restrain and regulate the sale of vinous and spirituous, malt or brewed liquors, or any admixture thereof.

What was the Brook’s High License Law?

An act passed by the Pennsylvania Assembly on May 13, 1887 regulating the sale of “spirituous, vinous, malt and brewed liquors”. It became public law (P.L. 108). It is referred to as the Brook’s High License Law or the Brook’s Law, for short.

The law went into effect on June 1, 1888.

The law prohibited the sale of spirituous liquor in Pennsylvania without a license. It was not superseded by nor did it supersede the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. The Brook’s Law did not identify any amount of alcohol and thus no fluid could be manufactured without a license. In Pittsburgh, a judge presiding in the Court of Quart Session for Allegheny County accepted or rejected requests for licenses.

Why was it Passed?

Pressure from the Temperance movement was applied to the States to curb alcohol abuse. Nebraska was the first to pass a high license law in 1881, followed by Missouri and Illinois. The push for these laws was not so much for the prohibition of drinking but to curb alcohol abuse. Originally, beer was promoted by the “drys” to get people off whiskey. Ultimately all alcohol was banned with prohibition.

Sections of the Brook’s Law
(I have not found all of them nor have I found the actual law)

Section 1 retail sale of alcohol in any room, house, tavern, place etc., had to be licensed.

Section 2 prohibited wholesale beer sales less than 12 one-pint bottles. Liquor sales had to be greater than one quart. The Wholesale Law of 1891 added a provision that consumption of alcohol in the premise of the wholesale dealer was prohibited.

Section 4 required the mercantile tax collector had to provide a list of the taxes collected from each tavern, hotel, etc., selling retail.

Section 6 released druggist and apothecary from obtaining a license but required them to sell alcohol only upon a prescription by a physician and only once per prescription.

Section 17 made it illegal for anyone to sell or give as a gift or in some other manner to provide a child with alcohol. This provision applied to person engaged in the liquor business whether or not they had or did not have a license. For those not in the liquor business, it was not unlawful to give a child alcohol. You lawyers can check Conn v. McGee, 7 Pa. C. C. 162.

Section 18 gave the District Attorney the duty to bring a club to court to explain to the court how it is dispensing alcohol if the DA has reason to believe the club is in violation of the Brook’s Law.

Woner Act of May 5, 1921
Pennsylvania Public Law 407 made a distinction between intoxicating and non-intoxicating alcohol, which did not cause the act to violate the Constitution. The act gave Pennsylvania the authority to regulate beverages containing less than 0.05% alcohol, which the Volstead Act regulated. The Woner Act also made cooperation with Federal agents in prohibition enforcement. The Woner Act was an amendment to the Brook’s Act.

District & County Reports, Pennsylvania, Volume 1
Report on Susquehanna County Liquor License on the constitutionality of the Woner Act.

Resources for the Brook’s Law

Appleton’s Annual Cyclopaedia & Register of Important Events
Volume 14, 1890
Applications for a license to sell or serve alcohol must be made three weeks in advance and must be advertized. The Register also described the affect the law had on crime and imprisonment and death as a result of the law.

Friends Intelligencer & Journal, Volume 46
Page 237 and 238 of the Intelligencer gives commentary on the Brook’s Law. Their assertion was that the proponents of temperance did not want to license alcohol but to restrain it.
Published in 1889 by the Society of Friends

Vigliotti v. Pennsylvania 258 U.S.403 (1922)
This was the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on the legality of the Brook’s Law after the enactment of prohibition in the United States.

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Established in 1933, The
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is an independent government agency that manages the beverage alcohol industry in Pennsylvania. It is responsible for licensing the possession, sale, storage, transportation, importation and manufacture of wine, spirits and malt or brewed beverages in the state.
See: The Administrative Code, Liquor (
Title 40).

United States Constitution Amendments

Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution
The 18th amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territories subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.

Congress passed the 18
th Amendment to the US Constitution on December 18, 1917, which was ratified on January 16, 1919. Prohibition took affect on January 16, 1920. The Twenty First Amendment repealed the 18th, having been passed on February 20, 1933 and ratified on December 5, 1933.

Twenty-First Amendment of the United States Constitution
Although the 21st amendment was pass in February, it was not ratified until December. Congress took steps in March of 1933 to revise the Volstead Act to allow for the legal production of beer (not wines or spirits). See Volstead Act, 1933 Revision, below.

Volstead Act
Formally the National Prohibition Act, it was the US law the provided enforcement of the 18th amendment. It was named after US Representative Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the act but Congress overrode the veto. The veto and override both occurred on the same day, October 28, 1919.

The Volstead Act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage having 0.05% alcohol. This superseded all other prohibition laws enacted by other states. Enforcement officially began on February 2, 1920.

The Volstead Act specifically allowed the consumption of alcohol in ones private home provided the alcohol was in place prior to February 2, 1920.

It has been found that some have claimed that the Volstead Act prohibited alcohol. The 18
th amendment did that. The Volstead Act identified the illegal acts and provided for its enforcement.

Volstead Act, 1933 Revision
Prior to the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the Volstead Act was revised to permit the manufacture of beer having not more than 3.2% alcohol.

Wholesale Act of 1891
Act of Assembly, June 9, 1891 (P.L. 257)

The legislative name of the act was: An act to restrain and regulate the sale of vinous and spirituous, malt or brewed liquors, or any admixture thereof, by wholesale. This law passed on June 9, 1891 and went into effect immediately.

This Pennsylvania act was essentially the same as the Brook’s Act of 1887 other than it made some sections more restrictive for wholesale dealers. Section 2 was amended to prohibit the consumption of alcohol in the premise of the wholesale dealer. A court case set president on on-site consumption by convicting a dealer for skirting the intent of the law.

The case of Commonwealth v. Jones led to the license being revoked. The court heard that Jones repeatedly and willfully sold and opened a single quart bottle knowing that the men would take the bottle in the rear alley and drink the beer. When finished the man would come back in for return. Jones was found to be “not a proper man to have a license”. Jones did not lose his license however as the prosecution was a test case.