Growlers and Growler Laws Across the US

EDIT 4/2/2013:  THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BACK IN FEBRUARY 2012 AND WAS BASED ON OUR TRAVELS AND EXPERIENCES FILLING OUR COLLECTION OF GROWLERS.  WHILE IT IS ACCURATE IN THAT IT IS BASED ON OUR EFFORTS AT THAT TIME, THERE HAVE BEEN CHANGES IN LAWS SINCE THEN.  SOMEONE SHOULD PRODUCE AN ARTICLE SHOWING CURRENT STATE LAWS GOVERNING GROWLERS.  MAYBE I WILL TAKE A SHOT AT THIS.

Where to start on this one?  Well, I suppose I should start at the beginning.  First, this is my first participation in the Session.  I have been blogging for about a year and writing about beer for about six months.  Second, my family and I are taking a year to travel around the US in an RV and are a little over half way done.  We have been writing about our travels at www.afamilyfarafield.com and part of the trip/blog involves visiting breweries, writing about them and, when possible, filling a stainless steel growler.  Third, this has given me not only exposure to some good, great and mediocre beers, it has also given me a glimpse into some of the various state laws that govern beer-making and growler usage.  While I have to admit I am something of a newbie when it comes to blogging, I can say this with confidence:  I know growlers!

The Collection

First, let me discuss my (ever-growing) collection of growlers:  My first growler was, until recently, my favorite.  It is a 2-liter brown glass Muster Geschutzt growler with a pewter handle, ceramic lid and rubber gasket.  I purchased this from Deschutes Brewery about 10 years ago and it has served me well since then.  The lid seals tight and is much better than the typical screw-on cap when it comes to keeping beer carbonated and fresh.

My second growler is a standard brown half-gallon jug.  Nothing fancy here, but it works. I couldn’t tell you where I bought it, as the label is gone and the ink on the lid has faded to nothing.

My new favorite growler is a half-gallon, stainless steel, vacuum insulated jug made by Hydroflask.  I got my hands on this baby in Montana and have been filling it whenever I can since then.  I like this better than the Deschutes growler as it is not glass (i.e. breakable), and the vacuum insulation keeps liquids cold for a full day.  My only complaints with it lie in the lid: while it seals tight and holds carbonation, it is too small to get a hand inside for cleaning, yet too big to fit shrink-wrap plastic collars required by some breweries (more on this below).  But these are minor complaints.  And I have often wondered if stainless steel affects beer flavor over time, but no beer has been in the growler long enough to find out.

So far, I have picked up four additional growlers since Massachusetts, all standard brown jugs with silk-screened logos on them.  I gave a Pioneer Brewing growler to a friend as a gift (filled, of course, then promptly drained), but kept two from Pisgah and Wedge breweries in Asheville, North Carolina. North Carolina only allows the sale of containers provided by the selling breweries, so I had no choice but to buy new ones (again, more on this later).  Some people collect t-shirts, spoons, thimbles, or Christmas ornaments when they visit new places, I guess I am collecting growlers.

My most recent addition is a one-gallon brown jug, purchased from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida.  For some reason, Florida only permits growlers of one quart and one gallon.  Despite lobbying by state brewers, current law does not permit filling of the half-gallon growlers so common in the rest of the country.  Since they would not fill any of my other jugs, I was forced to buy a one-gallon jug.  Oh, how I suffer for my art!

State Laws

After passage of the 21st Amendment, this left the regulation of alcohol production, sale and distribution to the states, and every one has their own spin on how to do things.  I live in Oregon, which has very loose laws governing filling outside containers with beer.  I have seen someone get a single beer to go a mason jar, and have heard a bartender say that he will fill an empty 2-liter soda bottle if it is clean.  But I have found that as I have travelled around the country and visited 26 states to date, this attitude (and legal framework) is the exception rather than the rule.  I have visited states that do not permit growlers of any kind (Georgia, South Dakota).  I have discovered some states only permit growlers filled by the selling brewery, in state-approved containers (Massachusetts, North Carolina, Minnesota).  The upside to these laws, though, is that many breweries sell growlers that are pre-filled, pressurized and sealed, giving a longer shelf life.  And now I find myself in Florida, with the strangest laws of all (quart and gallon growlers only).

In those states that do allow growler fills, I have seen bartender perform some gymnastics to get around various provisions of existing laws.  In Illinois, a brewer was required to put a company sticker on my Hydroflask in order to comply, and they had non-stick vinyl Colorforms-like labels handy for just such an occasion.  I have seen other brewers use normal stickers with only the corners of exposed, making removal very easy.  Other states (Wisconsin, Florida) require that jugs be sealed after filling, most often with plastic heat-shrink collars placed on the bottle necks.  Since my Hydroflask has an oversized neck, bartenders have used have electrical tape, saran wrap and a heat gun, and stickers to comply.  A few bartenders have told me that a growler without a seal could be considered an open container, but most sent me down the road indicating it was my problem if I got pulled over.

I have heard a few theories on why laws are so restrictive, and most come down to money.  While the laws seem to be more restrictive in the temperant South, discussions with brewers and bartenders seem to indicate that the big production breweries are behind efforts to maintain their market share.  While blue laws and dry counties can still be found, it sounds like restrictive laws are just a case of the Big Boys protecting their bottom line.

Cost

The cost for the growler itself can range from very relatively cheap to expensive, depending on how exotic it is.  A simple brown jug with a brewery label or logo typically sells for $2 to $4, and some breweries such as Rogue often sell filled growlers in grocery stores.  My gallon jug cost $7 at Cigar City, while I noticed that they were selling the quart bottles for $4.  The fancy growlers, such as my Deschutes jug, can be pricey: while I seem to recall paying about $20 for mine, the website indicates this has gone up to $30.  And the Hydroflask retails for roughly $40 to $50.

In Bend, I can get a growler filled for as low as $6, and as much as $15. On this trip, prices have ranged from $8 to $15 (before tax) with most in the $10 to $12 range.  I have been spending $17 to $20 to fill my growler in Florida, but again, that is for a full gallon.  This is one of the tougher parts of growler fills: If I can get a six-pack for $8 to $10, why should I get 64 oz. (a little over five 12 oz. bottles) for more money?  I will pay a little more for fresh draft beer, but not a lot more.

Why Fill a Growler?

The obvious reason for filling a growler over buying bottle or cans is that it is environmentally conscious.  The container is reusable, and generates no trash.  And filling a growler uses far less energy and water than the bottling/canning process.  But in addition to the fresher taste of draft beer, I like growlers over six packs and bombers as I can take home limited-release and seasonal beers that are not bottled.  If a brewery has a flagship beer that they are known for, it is almost aways available in six-packs.  I want to get something seasonal that cannot be bought at the grocery store, and a growler is often times the only way to get that.  And I will add that there are numerous microbreweries and brewpubs that may not have bottling equipment just yet.

My growler collection is taking up far too much room in the RV, but I wouldn’t change anything.  It has allowed us to visit dozens of breweries around the country and sample how beer is brewed in different regions of the US.  Since drinking and driving in the RV is not an option, we have been able to find a brew we like, fill a growler, and then enjoy it once we have safely set up camp.  And we are being environmentally conscious in the process.  So I guess I could say that drinking beer from a growler gives me a warm, tingly sensation, but I am not sure if that is from my eco-friendly behavior, or from the beer.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the info! I had been wondering about the legality of selling beer in containers brought from home and the open container issue you brought up. Your article makes me want to start a growler collection.

    • John Fremont says

      Thanks for the comment. As far as a growler collection goes, be careful what you ask for. We are in California now and I think my collection is up to seven.

      As I said, laws are a little different in every state, but it would be so much easier for the brewer, customer and regulators, and easier on the environment, if the restrictions were eased a bit. I seem to recall some breweries in Midwestern states sealing jugs with shrink-wrap tape and a heat gun, while other states don’t seem to address such issues.

  2. says

    Regarding your comment about worrying that stainless may affect the flavor of beer, you have nothing to worry about. The vast majority of beers spend most of their lives in stainless. Starting with stainless brew kettles, to stainless fermenters, to stainless serving tanks or kegs. Stainless in good condition (no rust or surface contaminants) has absolutely no effect on the flavor of beer.

    Prost!

    • John Fremont says

      Dave-

      That is a great point. If the brewing vessels don’t affect the flavor, the stainless growler won’t. But I will still work hard to keep the beer in the growler for as little time as possible. Just in case, of course…..

    • John Fremont says

      Sorry, I don’t know what the laws are in Kansas. For the states I cited in this post, I based my information on hands-on research and not on a review of legal statutes (the best kind of research for this topic). As we did not visit Kansas, I cannot say what the laws allow.

    • John Fremont says

      I saw this on Uncrate.com yesterday. Just be aware that my research was based on site visits and not legal research. While hands-on research is way more fun for this topic, it should not be used in place of an opinion from an attorney. Also, while the article is not that old, state laws continue to change and progress since it was written. For example Georgia now permits growlers while Florida is considering allowing standard half-gallon jugs as well as gallon and 32-oz. bottles. And California’s law is I going a possible major reinterpretation right now.

      I would like to see a day when any half gallon container can be filled by any brewery. We will see if we get there.

  3. says

    Thanks for posting that info on what states have restrictive growler fill laws. I knew about California, but didn’t know that Mass, NC and Minnesota! Very good to know, especially making custom labels for folks on blank growlers. So glad I live in Montana where none of those restrictions apply!

    • John Fremont says

      It seems that since I wrote that, laws continue to change. While Montana has liberal growler laws, it seems that the state is very restrictive when it comes to brewery tasting rooms. I have been reading this blog regarding the whole situation:

      http://growlerfills.blogspot.com/

      Good luck with all of that!

      • Holliday says

        The bill actually got tabled for this session, and I am guessing Hagan has effectively stopped any chance of re-election. We folks in Montana don’t like people messing with our ability to share our favorite brews with others.

        I think the growlers have really taken off here since up until very recently, we had no way to recycle glass so in an effort to reduce waste, people latched on to the growlers as a way to stay green. Also, the fact that we have so many breweries that don’t bottle or can.

  4. Claudia says

    Growler stores are multiplying around the Atlanta area. The one closest to us is called Moondog Growlers. So glad they are here!

    • John Fremont says

      I first read about Sunoco wanting to put them into gas stations in New York back in 2011. Right now there are three growler fill stations in Bend, OR with a fourth set to open in a week or so. It is funny to say this but the place with the best list of beers on tap in town is actually the Shell station.

  5. Growler McGhee says

    Just got denied on filling a Rogue growler at White Birch Brewer in Hooksett NH. Add NH to the list of states with laws that encourage extra waste and inconvenience. Live free or die! (as long as it doesn’t affect corporate profits).

    • John Fremont says

      I seem to recall that we were denied in New Hampshire as well. We had lunch at the Red Hook brewery in Portsmouth, NM and they would not fill our growler either. The manager even sat down with us and wanted to hear about a trip and the breweries we visited. He was really nice and friendly but he said the law would not allow him to fill it.

      I am out west, so I am not sure what the politics are like in New Hampshire, but there seems to be a lot of momentum to improve growler laws across the country. Here in Oregon, bills have been passed to allow wineries to fill growlers, as well as cider (regulated as wine). In California, the regulators gave a presentation that seemed to indicate that breweries could now fill growlers other than those sold on premises. This has caused more confusion than clarity, but at least it is headed in the right direction. And in Florida, legislators are working to allow fills of a standard 64 oz. growler in addition to the 32 oz. growlette and one gallon jug now permitted. I am optimistic that we will see thawing across the country as time goes on.

  6. Mark Snider says

    Thanks for your writing on your travels. I collect growlers too, and currently I’m up to 37, all from different breweries. I have some from MO, IL, CO, GA, IA. Soon I’ll have a few from AK.
    In KS and MO, by law breweries are to seal the growler with electric tape, saran wrap, or heat up a plastic sleeve that is then shrunk by the heat of a hair dryer.

    Keep collecting it’s a great hobby to drink to and share!

    • John Fremont says

      Thanks for your comment. I am surprised that you have a growler from a GA brewery as I was told by one in Savannah that growlers were illegal in the state. But that was in late 2011, and another commenter indicated that laws have changed. My collections was limited by the space on the RV, and the constant bouncing took out a couple jugs. But now that I am home, I have room to collect as many as I want. Strangely, though, I have no desire to do so.

      Here in OR, I am surprised by the fact that the OLCC has no requirements on sealing growlers once filled. I couple of breweries I visited on the trip refused to fill the Hydroflask as they did not have any sleeves that would seal it. The simple jugs are fine, but I still like the double-walled stainless steel Hydroflask (non-breakable, stays cold).

    • John Fremont says

      At least they are addressing the important issues…..

      I was really impressed with what was going on in Asheville when we were there in November 2011. A couple of the brewers I talked to were apprehensive about having someone else’s (inferior) beer in their growler. Still a valid concern.

  7. says

    Great article. I found it doing research on my own growler post. I grew up in Oregon and have now been in California for 4.5 years or so. The growler fill law here was approved, but none of the brewers want to do it (too difficult, growlers not sanitary, have to cover other breweries labels). It’s WAY more about their own branding and selling growlers, IMO. Totally their right within the law but really annoying, particularly when a person simply grabs the wrong growler heading out of the house. Oregon > California here (and of course in many other ways ;)

    • John Fremont says

      Thanks for the comment. The brewers in town (Bend) are driven crazy by the growler craze as they have no control over cleanliness and someone else’s beer (read: inferior) will probably end up in a growler with their name on it. But I am still in favor of the setup here.

      You can get the experimental stuff that the local brewers don’t bottle, and the environmental benefits make it worth it.

  8. Andrew Maguire says

    Growlers have been legal in South Dakota for at least the last 15 years. And the breweries in and around the Black Hills like Crow Peak Brewing in Spearfish or Firehouse Brewing in Rapid City, all happily fill any style of growler no matter the brewery stamp. Get your story straight dude.

    • John Fremont says

      My comments are based on my experiences while we traveled. I actually went in to Firehouse and the bartender declined to fill my growler. Maybe he did not like the fact that it was a Hydroflask and steel growlers were somewhat new at the time. Maybe he just did not like the looks of me, but either way, he indicated they would only fill their own bottles.

      I called a few breweries in the Black Hills area (don’t recall who) and they also indicated they would only fill their own. I happened to be visiting during Sturgiss so maybe Bike Week had something to do with it. Either way, I was declined several times.

      If growlers have been permitted for the past 15 years, then I stand corrected. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I was not successful in getting any fills while I was there. Thanks for the comment.

Trackbacks

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *