Deal for Fresher Beer Pending

An agreement is pending that could bring fresh beer to Montgomery County, where the disappointment that stale suds can deliver to the thirsty has been a bureaucratic problem.

The county is the only jurisdiction in the country that acts as a wholesale beer distributor, a monopoly that brings it $45.5 million a year in revenue. The arrangement dates to Prohibition, when Montgomery leaders opted for strict public regulation of the liquor business to stop the proliferation of street-corner bars.

But beer makers such as Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Coors Brewing Co. have complained that Montgomery doesn't provide the same service as private beer wholesalers, who operate under lucrative territorial agreements with beer makers. Their biggest complaint has been that Montgomery won't swap old beer for fresh, something commonly done in other jurisdictions, where private companies distribute beer.

There is disagreement about old beer: Some deny that it poses a problem and see the campaign for freshness as an advertising ploy by big brewers faced with competition from microbreweries that stress purity and freshness.

Old beer--that is, beer past its expiration date--is not harmful, but beer makers insist that it tastes worse. One beer expert, British author Michael Jackson, describes it as losing "its hoppy delicacy" and becoming "susceptible to cardboardy, wet-papery or skunky flavors."

The Maryland General Assembly opted for freshness when it ordered this year that the county Department of Liquor Control work out an arrangement with beer makers to replace old beer with fresh. But agreement has been elusive, as the county worried about higher labor costs associated with the additional duties. Then, last week, a tentative deal was reached between county officials and lobbyists for the country's largest brewers.

Under the agreement, beer company representatives would visit Montgomery beer retailers and check for old beer on store shelves. The beer representatives would give store owners a voucher for any old beer they remove and provide a copy to the county, which would include fresh replacement beer in its next delivery. The beer companies would reimburse the county for the additional beer.

Beer industry lobbyists hope that Howard Cook, director of the county Department of Liquor Control, signs off on the plan this week.

"We've ironed out almost everything that could screw it up," Cook said. "It has gone through every lawyer on the East Coast. I feel like we have put this behind us." He said he expects all parties to sign the agreement this week.

-- Scott Wilson

Spotlighted Students Graduate

Three Washington area high school students whose junior year was chronicled in The Post have graduated and are headed for college this fall.

Jamieka Houston, of Crossland High in Prince George's County; Candie Parrish, of Cardozo High in the District; and Nicole Thomas, of Fairfax High in Fairfax County, said their senior year, which included some Advanced Placement courses, prepared them for the rigors of higher education.

Houston and Thomas said they probably will major in a science as preparation for medical school, while Parrish, who wants to be a teacher, plans to major in elementary education.

Houston said she will attend Hood College in Frederick, Md., which has an undergraduate enrollment of about 1,000. "I fell in love with the place and the people there," she said. She said she liked its small size and the fact that it is a women's college, with about 120 male commuter students attending classes.

She said she plans to play three sports in college: soccer, basketball and softball. This summer, she provided day care for seven children in her home in Lanham.

Parrish said she plans to attend Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., which has about 1,450 undergraduates. When she visited the school, she said, "they treated me like a family member and really took a big interest in me."

Parrish said the heavy academic demands placed on her and 145 other students in Cardozo's Transportation and Technology Academy will ease her adjustment to college work. "I am kind of scared about learning a new situation and meeting new people," she said, "but I am not afraid of the work."

This summer, she did clerical work for the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington.

Thomas said she will go to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, which has about 23,000 undergraduates. She said she liked the size and diversity of the campus. "I considered going to a historically black college," she said, "but I have not led a historically black life."

She said she will be rooming with her Fairfax High classmate Paula Lloyd and may get involved in student government and minority affairs at the university. This summer, she worked at Crutchfield Orthodontics in Chantilly.

-- Jay Mathews