The more I learn about individual states’ convoluted liquor laws, the more I want to both laugh and smack my head against a wall at the same time. Here in New Jersey, only two grocery stores per chain can get a license to sell alcohol in the state. In Pennsylvania, grocery stores had been prohibited from selling any type of alcohol until someone came up with the wine vending machine.


Talk about a convoluted waste of resources. The vending machine dispenses bottles of wine like a soda machine does, but there are a few hoops to jump through before a purchase can be made.

Here’s how it works. A customer inserts a driver’s license and then looks into a camera. Someone at a call center makes a quick judgment about if the person on camera is the same person on the driver’s license. Then, the customer must breathe into a Breathalyzer. According to the NY Daily News, state officials say the whole process takes 20 seconds.

Really? The person matching the driver’s license to the face peering into the camera makes a determination in less than 20 seconds? Remember that 20 seconds also includes the time for the Breathalyzer to register. reports that the wine prices range from $5.99 to $22.99 and are mostly high volume selling wines like Yellow Tail, Sutter Home and Kendal Jackson. In the first two weeks of a trial of the machines, 1,400 bottles were sold totaling $16,000.

There are many things I find ridiculous about this process. The amount of resources it takes to create these vending machines, or wine kiosks, is unnecessary. The wines aren’t refrigerated. They are at room temperature behind glass doors that look like a refrigerator. A shelf would work just as well. The person determining if the photo ID matches the face in the screen couldn’t possibly do as good of a job as a live person could do — especially in the limited time available.

And, the most ridiculous thing of all — there isn’t a single Pennsylvania wine being offered in these machines. There are more than 100 wineries in the state, but not a single one of the state's wines is being offered in any of the 53 options per machine. 

I’m not the only one who finds this ridiculous.

Eric Heyl, a Pittsburgh columnist, has a witty Q&A (pretty sure he wrote both the Q’s and the A’s) 

• But how can a kiosk verify my ID?

The LCB cleverly conquered that potential stumbling block by having an employee monitoring the kiosk in Harrisburg compare your ID to your appearance on a kiosk remote camera.

• Wouldn't it be easier to have a store cashier do that?

Now that you mention it ...

Grub Street dubbed the kiosks “the worst idea ever.”

And Vinography thinks the kiosks are a way to avoid selling wine in Pennsylvania.

What do you think of these vending machines? A technological advance that circumvents PA’s archaic laws or a joke?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Wine vending machine complete with breathalizer
Pennsylvania comes up with an interesting way to sell wine in grocery stores and neglects its local wineries in the process.