Growlers: Filled with Love, Fraught with Confusion

An article posted on the Florida Beer News website attempts to clarify the ambiguous law governing who can fill what sizes of growlers in Florida. Ultimately, aptly named Brewer concludes that a recently issued waiver will not solve the problem: comprehensive laws are needed to resolve important questions, such as who may fill growlers and the size and composition of the growlers. The law currently governing, while ambiguous, appears to hinge on “packaging” language in the statute. Since retail stores for on-site consumption do not package products like breweries do (they just buy pre-packaged goods and dispense them to customers), this distinction may have led the ABT to order a beer and wine bar to cease growler fills. However, a few years later, a retail store selling for off-site consumption applied for a waiver, and received it, leaving the ABT’s official stance on growler fills regarding any other retailers in Florida unclear.

What started as a simple attempt to allow 64oz growler fills in the state turned into somewhat of a kerfluffle when a state congressperson represented other interests by adding several provisions to a bill that became far less friendly to small brewers. In the end, neither the simple 64oz growler provision nor the add-ons are likely to become law–at least not this term. Brewers’ Law has a number of excellent write-ups that track the story.

Some states do allow growlers to be filled by non-brewing retail locations. A recently passed North Carolina law allows standard retail locations to fill growlers–likely leading to a growler fill up at the local grocery store. In Oregon, growlers can be filled at any retail store, restaurant, bar, brewpub, or winery with the appropriate . . . license. The state even publishes a handy-dandy info-sheet that makes the growler situation quite clear. Accordingly, EugeneWeekly.com reports on the development of a “growler rush” in that state. The same goes for ArizonaMontanaMichigan, New York, Washington, and Wyoming as well, thanks to laws allowing properly licensed retail establishments to fill growlers.

Texas appears reversed: certain retailers and brewpubs can fill growlers, but breweries cannot. A Georgia bill (H.B. 314) was introduced early in 2013 that would alter the definition of brewpub to allow limited (288 ounces per person, per day) growler fills. It was tabled by committee in March and has not been acted upon since.

The growler issue is not confined only to beer. Wineries in Washington state, for example, are allowed to fill growlers of wine at the wineries themselves, but not at satellite tasting rooms where no winemaking occurs. For brewers in California, the fact that no brewing occurs on premises is not a barrier to growler fills, provided the brewer has received a duplicate license for the premises. (The Stone Company Store in Pasadena, CA, for example, has no brewing facilities but operates under a duplicate license giving it the same privileges to sell beer from the site as the brewery itself has).

California recently resolved some ambiguities that had arisen as to the filling of one brewer’s growler at a different brewery. The California Craft Brewers Association has a July 9, 2014 blog entry titled “Growlers – Q&A” with some good information on CA’s approach. A California Craft Beer Association-sponsored bill (AB 647) passed resulting in clarifications for labeling of growlers, including the procedure for filling growlers produced by one brewery (thus bearing its logos and information) but filled at another. On February 13, 2014, the Sacramento Bee reported that not many breweries are choosing to use the new law to allow fills of third-party growlers.

One reason might be that few want to bother with the ambiguity figuring out how to use it: what obscuring device counts as “not easily removable”? Another claimed reason is sanitation. I don’t know about most beer drinkers, but I don’t want to drink out of a dirty growler, so I clean mine pretty well before refilling. I assume that is fairly standard behavior. It’s probably mostly about money, since its business. Russian River, for example, is frank about its stance on the role growlers play in its marketing strategy. Of course, the sale of the growler itself is nice, too. But I have a modest growler array at home, and even that is too much. An entire shelf is taken up with 32–64oz jugs in the garage. Other than for intentional collecting of these things, no decent Californian should have to dedicate a significant portion of home storage to growlers. It’s silly.

While the state still limits growler fills to breweries only, the California Craft Beer Association discussed the potential of change in that area in a panel discussion at its recent bi-annual meeting. One the one hand, more access to craft beer cannot be a bad thing. I would certainly make use my local grocery or liquor store’s ability to fill growlers. On the other, I do like the impetus to visit my local breweries provided by the exclusive right to fill growlers, as well as more confidence in fresh beer from clean lines.

The widely varying stances on issues like this reveal the oddities that result from leaving the regulation of alcohol primarily to each state. There are 50 “laboratories” out there each brewing up their own solutions to the orderly regulation of alcohol production, sales, and consumption.

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