Although the debate among scholars and beer aficionados may linger regarding the etymology of the word “growler,” there can be little doubt that the future of malt beverages is likely to be filled with them. In beer circles, the word growler is now synonymous with a one-half gallon, refillable glass container that is used by local brew pubs and operators for off-premise consumption.
In Portland, Oregon, growlers are literally flying out of town. An Oregon brewery with an on-premise location inside the restricted terminal at Portland International Airport sells growlers to in-transit passengers to be carried on planes. A recent survey of state laws revealed that at least three-fourths of the states, including the District of Columbia, permit intended for off-premise consumption of growlers by craft breweries of their own malt beverage products (and in some cases their competitors’ products). Also, nearly one-third of the states also permit bars and restaurant to sell growlers for off-premise consumption of any number of competing malt beverage products; and, growth in this category is trending favorably as evidenced by a recently enacted Ohio law allowing certain on-premise retailers to sell growlers in that state.
Growlers are advantageous for a variety of operators for many reasons. Growlers afford customers with direct access to tap-quality malt beverage products in affordable, bulk containers that are reusable and, accordingly, environmentally favorable over disposable glass bottles or aluminum cans. Also, growlers stimulate brand awareness both as takeaway brew pub souvenirs and bulk service pieces likely to facilitate group tastings and the shared enjoyment of the malt beverage products in and around the comforts of home.
A Wide Choice of Options
Not unlike the malt beverages brewed in each state, state growler laws come in a variety of styles. Federal law generally permits the original sale and refill of malt beverage products in growlers without providing specific restrictions as to size. Among the states, there is some variation as to the size of growlers. Incidentally, the ubiquitous one-half gallon containers appearing in a majority of states are more likely the product of a glass manufacturing mold than specific regulatory requirements. In fact, only two of the states expressly make reference to one-half gallon containers as part of their container requirements and the permitted sizes for carry out containers range from two ounces to three gallons. In at least one state, Florida, one-half gallon containers are not permitted (albeit not without protest from the local beer community) as off-premise sales of draft beer may only be made in quart- or gallon-size containers.
In addition to size, state requirements vary with respect to closures, labeling, branding and filling. Although the requirement that growlers be sealed at the time of filling is common among the states, a consensus is lacking as to what constitutes a “seal.” Maine has gone as far as to require that growlers be closed with “tamper resistant” seals prior to sale. By contrast, Oregon requires only that growlers be “securely covered” without elaborating any minimum requirements.
Many of the states also require that growlers be sanitary prior to fill without enumerating specific conditions. For labeling and branding, brew pubs and on-premises retailers, where it is permitted to sell growlers, are advised to follow the federal labeling requirements applicable to bottling. In addition, several states have specific requirements that require the inclusion of statutory language. Some states prohibit a brew pub from selling its malt beverage product (by original sale or refill) in a growler not having that brew pub’s branding on it. Finally, in at least one state growlers cannot be filled prior to purchase and in several states a brew pub may not sell a malt beverage product not produced by it.
In addition to the nuances of each state’s laws, there are a few practical matters that every proprietor should consider in selling growlers. Given the lack of factory seals, guests should be made aware that, due to the dissipation of the residual carbon dioxide that will occur once a growler is opened and that a growler should be consumed within a couple of days after it is opened in order to minimize the flattening of the beer. Beers that are served on nitrogen or cask-conditioned should either not be sold in growlers or with the caveat that they be consumed immediately. With respect to the timing of consumption, it should obviously not take place in a consumer’s automobile and, if questioned, a proprietor should be clear that growlers are subject to applicable state open container laws. For the avoidance of any doubt, consumers should be advised to place growlers in locked compartments or trunks when transporting growlers in moving vehicles.
Without question, with the recent growth spurt occurring in the craft beer category, we anticipate that there will be greater liberalization of the laws and regulations relating to growlers and more and more restaurants and beer pubs will be able to send their customers home with their favorite beers.