Education May Solve Growler Worries
“You can’t put Stone beer into a Sierra Nevada growler.” This is what the law regulating growler fills in California boils down to, and Sean Inman, a beer blogger at beersearchparty.com, has decided to do something about it. Almost a year ago, he launched The California Growler Initiative, an online petition that proposes “creating a ‘Brewed in California’ growler that can [be] filled at any of the growing amount of breweries in California.” The petition had yet to gain momentum until earlier this month when the link went viral within the online beer community. It quickly surpassed the 1,000 signee goal, but the state has yet to do anything to make the glass jugs any more usable at its numerous breweries.
California is not the only state with laws restricting who may fill growlers and how it may be done. In Maine, breweries similarly can fill only their own growlers, and they “must be sealed…with a seal that is tamper evident.” Maine brewers also cannot sell growlers past 10:00 p.m. Prior to 2009, they could sell growlers only from a separate brewery store with a separate entrance.
North Carolina laws permit breweries to fill any growler “provided a label is affixed to the growler” that displays, among other information, “the brand name of the product.” Breweries may refill growlers sold by other breweries if they “relabel the growler prior to filling it” and “remove, deface or cover any permanent or non-permanent labels prior to affixing a new label.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Montana governor signed a bill last April that allows retailers, including bars, restaurants and bottle shops, to fill just about any growler. Previously, breweries could fill other breweries’ growlers, but the new law made it lawful for “an on-premises retailer to sell or furnish beer…in growlers… Growlers may not be filled in advance of sale and may be furnished by the consumer.” Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina have similar regulations on the books. For example, Green’s Beverages, which has several locations in South Carolina, has “full service growler systems” and even a “frequent filler” membership program.
You may ask why anyone would care who fills a growler and whose growler they fill. In the case of breweries filling growlers other than their own, the brewery listed on the container would not want consumers to mistakenly associate their brand name with the beer inside the container should it not be their own.
Brewers already lose one tier of quality control when they release kegs to bars and restaurants. The originating brewery typically lacks the ability to monitor beer storage, beer temperature and the status of a retailer’s draft lines. If a retailer fills a growler for a consumer to take home, the brewery surrenders another level of assurance that their beer is properly served. The retailer may not fill or seal the growler properly, and the consumer may provide the retailer with an unclean container.
A dirty growler filled from a dirty draft line and without a proper seal may create the perfect storm to cause an uneducated consumer to write off drinking beer from the brewery listed on the growler again.
Educational initiatives like Ray Daniels’ Cicerone Certification Program have improved the consumer experience at beer bars and restaurants across the country, from bartenders pouring into the appropriate glassware to servers recommending an exceptional pairing for dinner. Similar educational programs presented to retailers and consumers about growlers may alleviate most of the previously mentioned qualms that breweries have about others putting their beer or another brewery’s beer into these glass containers.
And maybe I will be able to make use of all these jugs taking up precious beer-storage space in my house. How many empty growlers do you have laying around?