Today, KPBS published this story about filling growlers at local craft breweries. Ah yes, the age-old growler debate rears its ugly head. The story is nothing new and while it is nice when a brewery will fill another brewery’s growler, a lot of breweries are not trying to be jerks. They are either protecting their beer and their brand or they are trying not to run afoul of what are completely unhelpful guidelines from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) on filling growlers. The guidelines can be onerous and California Craft Beer Association has put out this “growler clarification” to help. As Stone points out in their growler fill guidelines, ABC requires that any labels or logos be completely obscured in a fashion “not readily removable by the consumer.” You can imagine that peoples’ ideas of what that requirement means varies. I can tell you, straight from the ABC’s mouth, that stickers or duct tape do not cut it. So, you need to etch it off with a knife or use some other object to “obscure it.” Then the brewery is now faced with the decision of whether or not to put their delicious beer in a bottle that has been slightly trashed in order to obscure the label. For some, it doesn’t matter. They want anyone and everyone to drink their delicious beer. For other, the bottling and labeling matters much more.
If you are a nerdy beer lover, then check out the legislation for a closer look at Business and Professions Code Section 25200 for the details.
I think both arguments hold merit and I don’t fault anyone one way or the other. This law, is about consumer protection. What is a growler? It is a container. Interestingly, the law does not even mention growlers. It only discusses containers. Growlers do not get any special treatment (although they should) simply because craft breweries use them or because they are large with caps that can be replaced to refill them. The bottling laws prevent thieves and fraudsters from stealing empty “IronFist” labelled bottles and filling them up with something cheap and terrible and selling the six-pack for $13.99. The law makes sense, but the application to growlers does not.
Unfortunately, the laws are way behind the pace of the craft beer industry. We either need to change the law, or we need to find a work around. I think the former is the long-term solution. In the meantime, I have some ideas on a work around and when I get some traction, I will be ready to share with all of you!
Above: (left to right) Me, Brennan (trust me she likes beer too) and My Amazing Beer Encyclopedia Sister, Cha-Cha at Waypoint Public.
Until then, grab a growler, obscure the heck out of it (if headed to a different brewery than the one on the label) and find a place to fill up for the holiday. I recommend sharing that growler with great beer-loving friends and family. Cheers!
(Last delicious beer – Rye IPA on nitro at Belching Beaver (NorthPark))