02 April 2012

Growler Bill Passes Md. Legislature

We've long ago learned never to take anything in politics for granted, but after this weekend, it appears that legislation to allow the almost-universal filling of growlers by any Baltimore City venue licensed for on-premises consumption, save for non-profit venues and clubs such as the American Legion and the city's municipal golf courses (and how far do the thought processes that mandate such a specific exemption extend?), to fill and refill growlers with draft beer for off-site transport and consumption.

Baltimore City Liquor Board chairman Stephan Fogleman reported that the Senate approved the Baltimore City growler bill 46-0 and the Senate passed it 133-1 in the final vote late on Friday.  If/when signed by Governor Martin O'Malley, the law would become effective July 1st.

A similar bill for Howard County, which includes containers for wine, has passed the House of Delegates and is awaiting Senate action.

The bill originally restricted growlers to restaurant licensees, but it was then changed to include any liquor license holder, with the exception of clubs. Establishments that already sell package goods, such as a six-pack to go, can apply for a $50 annual license to sell growlers. Businesses without carryout licenses will also be able to sell growlers but will have to pay $500 for a license.  Sen. William C. Ferguson IV, a Democrat who represents Baltimore's waterfront and is the measure's sponsor, told the Baltimore Sun that the distinction was created because some establishments felt that refillable containers are an extension of presealed items to go, such as bottles of wine--and in some instances, such as prefilled growlers stocked by Baltimore Brewing Co./DeGroen's in a cooler back in years past, that's exactly what they amounted to.  Ferguson said growlers will have to be able to be sealed, and the bar or restaurant will have to brand the filled growlers with stickers identifying where they were filled, in addition to other labeling provisions.

The additional licensing measures and labeling requirements will mean that it will be unlikely that bars not specifically dedicating themselves to craft beer and its aficionados are unlikely to participate in growler fills.  In addition, why fill a growler if a perfectly acceptable six-pack or 22-ounce bottle of the same beer is sitting on the shelf, properly pre-packaged by the brewery?  Besides which, $8 (plus tip?) for a 64-ounce growlerful of Budweiser, or $7 for a 72-ounce six-pack?

More at the Baltimore Sun.


Ryan said...

so if i already have a growler, based on this seal and "labeling restrictions", it sounds like i won't be able to bring my growler into maxs and fill it up with something there to take home. is that right?

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

The proper answer is, most likely, "who the hell knows?"

Growler label enforcement is one of the biggest problems that the craft beer avocation has ever run into. I believe I have personally witnessed every possible interpretation of the rules: It has to be the house's growler (or not); it has to have a heat-shrink seal or sticker label over the cap (or not); it has to have a label saying which beer is in it (or not); etc., etc.

The intention of booze labeling laws is to inform the consumer just exactly what's in the bottle (but have you ever seen a list of ingredients on a booze bottle?) and to prevent an unscrupulous retailer from passing off cheap booze as more expensive booze. Neither of these are a legitimate issue when you personally bring a growler to a bar and WATCH the bartender fill the growler on your behalf; it might be an issue if, as Baltimore Brewing did, they exchange an empty growler for a full one.

Furthermore, what if--as max's Taphouse did--the bar makes its OWN branded growlers? Max's doesn't brew beer--does that satisfy the label requirements?

When City Liquor Board chairman Steve Fogleman was asked about this, he specifically said, "We have bigger, more serious things to worry about than whether a bar seals the jug properly or whether they label it."

The Oriole Way said...

"Establishments that already sell package goods, such as a six-pack to go, can apply for a $50 annual license to sell growlers."

Does this also mean that a liquor store not licensed for on-premises consumption, such as The Wine Source, could do growler fills?

JohnM. said...

For what it's worth Ryan, Max's has long allowed growler fills. I asked Casey about their policy over a year ago, and he indicated that he had spoken to their lawyer, and that he felt the current law, as written, would allow a beer bar in Baltimore City to legally fill a growler.

It's still not something I see them actively promoting at Max's, but I can confirm that I have gotten a growler fill at Max's over the past year (in fact, I got a fill of Nugget Nectar last year around this time). I would also add that it was a foreign growler (not one sold by Max's), so I don't think that makes a difference either.

Patrick McMahon said...

Any chance you can do a blog post sometime soon listing who has applied for and received a license to sell growlers? I've written to the City Liquor License Board asking for this list and received no response. Thanks!