The Growler Standoff

The Growler Standoff with Zak Rotello and Chris Quinn _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ __ __ _ _ _ The Growler Standoff: Free the Growler By Zak Rotello If you’re already a Mash Tun reader, I highly doubt I need to school you on growlers. But for the uninitiated: growlers began as lidded metal pails that customers (or possibly their kids) would fill up with draught beer at the local saloon. Taverns have been filling growlers since the late 1800s when the term was coined, and in modern times, breweries have used them as a convenient way to get their beer in the hands of consumers without dealing with the complex maze of labeling, licensing, and packaging issues that come with bottles and cans. Modern growlers run the gamut from the ever-popular 64-ounce glass jug, to handmade ceramic works of art, to high tech CO2-pressurized, double-walled, stainless steel vessels.   Admittedly, they’re an imperfect container for beer (see Chris Quinn’s counterpoint), but still a useful one. They’re great for our environment, since there’s almost zero packaging waste and they’re reusable. They’re great for enjoying draught beers that may not be available in bottled or can packages. They’re not so great for extended storage due to oxidation and/or carbonation loss. But still, I’d much rather have a 4 day old growler of double IPA, than a bottle that’s been sitting on the store shelf for 90+ days. And if brewers truly thought they were such a horrible container for their beer, they wouldn’t be selling them.   Stay with me, this gets a little technical…   In April 2014, in response to many requests from their retailers and publicans, the Illinois Craft Brewer’s Guild issued a press release stating, “Filling growlers is a well-established right or special privilege in Illinois that brewers have in order to guarantee and protect the integrity and freshness of their product.” The guild cited a section in the Illinois liquor code that prohibits retailers from “repackaging”, or refilling original containers. Of course, that clause exists for good reason – no one likes the idea of unscrupulous bartenders refilling the Van Winkle bottle with Very Old Barton when no one’s looking. Brewers also expressed their concern over quality. If someone brought in a dirty growler, would a bar still fill it with beer and potentially give their brand a bad reputation?   Brewers’ concerns about cleanliness and sanitation are understandable, but that concern should probably be aimed at pub glassware first and foremost. Considering the vast majority of draft beer is served over the bar at restaurants and bars in Illinois, it’s uncertain why the brewers’ concern about draught quality only surfaced when bars & restaurants started asking about growlers. Furthermore, the code they cited doesn’t refer to growlers.   A growler is not an original container any more than a pint glass, or a tulip, or a pitcher – kegs are the original container for draught beer. Growlers are purchased separately from the cost of the liquid inside – you might bring your own growler to the pub, or you might need to buy a new one on-site. And if bars weren’t allowed to “repackage” draught beer into another non-original container, there’d be no legal way to enjoy a pint at your local pub.   Ok, you still reading? Stay with me….   So I searched and searched, and I still haven’t seen anything in the Illinois liquor code or brewer’s licenses that gives brewers any special rights or privileges pertaining to growlers. What I did find, is that per federal TTB definition, filling growlers is considered a draft beer service function, which is entirely different from packaging or bottling. It could be argued that anyone who fills a growler in this state, including breweries, are allowing their customers to leave with an open, unsealed container – something you really don’t want a cop to find in your car. And that’s where we’re at in Illinois. We have this unnecessary standoff over why it’s ok to put beer in this glass, but not that glass.   Bored yet? I promise we’re almost done.   It’s time we modernized our growler laws to reflect the current market. Other states have made serious errors in writing these laws. Florida consumers were restricted to filling 32oz and 128oz growlers, but the standard 64oz growler was illegal. In California, until very recently, consumers had to have a specific brewer’s growler, meaning you had to make sure you had the right branded growler with you, depending on where you stopped to fill up. Even now there’s a patchwork of interpretations of the law in Chicago – Brewery X will fill this, Brewery Y won’t fill that.   Clearly, it can take many years to fix poorly written and vague laws. Right now, the slate is clean, and we have the opportunity to collaborate on a bill that ensures product quality, and skips over the errors that other states have made. Shouldn’t we all be working together to make this the best state to build a brewery, a bottle shop, or a pub? Aren’t we all trying to do the same thing, responsibly sell more fresh, local beer to our guests? At last count, 41 other states allowed growler fills at retail. Do we really want to be the last one to do this properly, just behind North Dakota? Arkansas?   So.   This is where you, the consumer, come in. If you think it’d be convenient to grab growlers of draught beer at your local, make your voice heard and help us modernize Illinois beer laws, head to FREETHEGROWLERS.COM, read the spiel, check out the links, and sign the petition. Tell your favorite brewer that you’d buy more of their beer if you could get it closer to where you live. Ask them to work with the storeowners and bar managers that…

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