The solution: Growlers

There are a few ways to deal with a problem. You can ignore it, and hope it doesn’t affect you. You can protest, and try to block the problem from happening. Or you can adapt, and force the situation back into something acceptable.

I’m all about protest, but sometimes you don’t win. And I’m not about ignoring a problem, or letting a situation get the best of me. I’m about change. Changing the scenario to fit my needs, or changing my needs to fit the scenario.

Let’s change the scene.

First, let’s set the scene.

Let’s assume the bill passes, and grocery stores can sell full strength beer. And let’s assume it’s as bad as everyone says. Our ability to find higher end bombers and smaller brewers diminishes. Granted, places like Argonaut Liquors and Total Bev aren’t going anywhere. Smaller places like Littles, Sip, or Joy Wine & Spirits should have a big enough customer base now, due to their knowledgable staff and niche selection, that they’ll survive. I hope.

(For more information about the bill, we’ve created a bundle of articles.)

So the craft beer drinker who really wants to explore new breweries is still going to find them. The problem affects new breweries exposing themselves to new customers. And for those of us who are little lazier, we might be less apt to find the new thing, because something we know and love is available right next to the Ben & Jerry’s, an aisle after the Doritos, and 5 minutes before we grab our steak for the night. The 17 year old grocer at King Soopers probably isn’t going to help you explore local stouts.

The scene is set. The problem that needs fixing is two-fold:

As a consumer, how am I going to learn about new breweries, beers, and trends, without the neighborhood liquor store employees and marketing showing me them. (Ignore the beer geeks who spend all day researching these things, for now)

As a brewery, how am I going to introduce myself and my new beers to my target market if the consumer-facing tier isn’t helping me anymore?

Of course, there’s also the “As a liquor store owner, I’m screwed. How do I not become screwed?” But I don’t really have any answer for that. I would love to hear some ideas though!

Growlers.

My solution is a half gallon glass jug with a small handle.

Jennie filling up a growler at Great Divide

Beer bars are already the face of the industry. You meet new taps, tastes, and trends while sipping something at Falling Rock, or trying a new bottle recommended to you by the knowledgable staff at Freshcraft. The servers at Rackhouse will point you in a new direction, Hops & Pie pairs the perfect slice with a stout, and Euclid Hall ensures excellence with a mussels Saison duo.

A growler being filled at Strange Brewing Company

Why not let the people with the knowledge and passion, not to mention the license to sell liquor, sell beer to go? It’s the perfect sales setting: Willing customers come in looking for something new. They can try a few things, figure out what they like, and then purchase a growler to bring home. They can share it with friends or keep it for themselves. When it’s empty, return to the bar for the next fill.

There are some pros, cons, and laws about this idea. First, the laws. Sadly, reasoning behind laws are generally not published along with the law itself. That might help us decipher things in a few instances. Alas, we merely have the law itself. Here are some of the laws currently preventing growler sales. These laws relate to general establishments licensed to sell alcohol. Later we’ll look at extended laws that allow for brewpubs and breweries to sell growlers.

Regulation 47-008. Fermented Malt Beverages – Limitations of License.

A. No person licensed for on-premises consumption only, shall sell fermented malt beverages in sealed containers, or permit the removal from the licensed premisesof any fermented malt beverages in either sealed or unsealed containers.

B. No person licensed for off-premises consumption only, shall sell, by the drink, any open container of fermented malt beverage, or permit the consumption of any fermented malt beverages within the licensed premises.

This states that having a license for on premise sales means you cannot sell liquor to be taken off premise, and vice versa.

Regulation 47-918. Removal of Alcohol Beverages from Premises.

A. Other than those licensees described in Section 12-47-421(2)(a), who may permit a patron to reseal a partially consumed bottle of vinous liquor (not to exceed 750 ml) which was originally sold for on premises consumption; no licensee, manageror agent of any establishment licensed for on-premises consumption shall permit the removal from the licensed premises of any alcohol beverages in sealed or unsealed containers,

B. Licensees described in paragraph A of this regulation who permit a patron to remove a partially consumed bottle of vinous liquor shall reseal the bottle with a cork or other commercially manufactured stopper.

C. Patrons transporting a partially consumed bottle of vinous liquor in a motor vehicle shall comply with the requirements of 42-4-1305, C.R.S

This one states that it’s ok to remove wine you’ve been drinking at dinner – as long as you already had a little out of the bottle.

Imagine growler fills at Falling Rock... (Picture courtesy of fallingrocktaphouse.com)

I can see some excuses for why this is a bad idea. Bars aren’t liquor stores. They shouldn’t have beer leaving the premises. What about the neighborhood! Here’s the thing though: bars are already allowed to serve alcohol. Anyone entering the establishment is already legally allowed to purchase alcohol. The bar is already set up to ensure people drinking are doing so safely. It’s illegal to serve alcohol to an intoxicated individual.

Some other cons are the pour itself, as well as the growler. If a bartender fills the growler poorly, the beer inside won’t taste great. Too much splashing, you’ll get oxidized beer. This reflects poorly on the brewery. Likewise, a dirty growler will have a similar effect, and reflects poorly on the brewery.

While these are good arguments, I think a little training would fix any issues, and the pros far outweigh the cons.

The pros are numerous: a knowledgable staff selling beer a customer has had the chance to try, in a reusable container. I could go on and on about these, but I feel that this is self-explanatory. Please, stop me if it’s not.

 

Rackhouse Pub could sell you a growler and some mac & cheese (Picture courtesy of rackhousepub.com)

Breweries and brewpubs can currently sell growlers. It’s an additional license. Allowing bars to do so is just an extension of this. Currently, the law states that a brewery can sell a product they make on premise for off premise consumption. The brewpub license states:

(2) [...] malt liquors manufactured by a brew pub licensee on the licensed premises or alternating proprietor licensed premises may be:

[...]

(III) Sold to the public in sealed containers for off-premises consumption. Only malt liquors manufactured and packaged on the licensed premises or alternating proprietor licensed premises by the licensee shall be sold in sealed containers.

(Read more)

And the brewery license (a manufacturer’s license) states:

(1) A manufacturer’s license shall be issued by the state licensing authority to persons distilling, rectifying, or brewing within this state for the following purposes only:
(a) To produce, manufacture, or rectify malt, vinous, or spirituous liquors;
(b) To sell malt or vinous liquors of their own manufacture within this state. Brewers or winers licensed under this section may solicit business directly from licensed retail persons or consumers by procuring a wholesaler’s license as provided in this article; [...]

(Read more)

To summarize: breweries and brewpubs can sell beer they make on premise for off premise consumption.

Let bars apply for a special growler filling license. Bars that value this distribution method will go after the license, and bars that don’t, won’t. The bars that do value this will also be more willing to train their staff on proper pours, cleanliness of glassware, etc. The staff are those already willing to learn, and probably already knowledgeable to some extent about beer.

The step to allowing growler sales at bars is a small one, but at this point, just a dream. This article is just a rant. But this is something than can happen. I hope this gets you thinking about the potential. Let me know your thoughts, any pros, cons, or laws I missed. And let’s get some legislators involved in the discussion.

About PJ Hoberman


PJ likes beer. A lot. And whiskey. Gin. Wine. Cocktails. Um.. what were we talking about?

  • http://www.conkphotography.com CONK

    To go beer. AWESOME!

  • http://www.coloradowomensbeerclub.wordpress.com denverbeerchick

    I’m all for beer bars selling beer, and it might be a good way to keep new and exciting beer consumption alive. My only problem with growler sales is that it is a lot of beer in an open container. I’m the only beer geek at my house, and the last growler I bought nearly went flat before I could get it all drank. If it were a matter of bombers AND growlers, I’d be the first in line, though. So, that’s my secondary option – bombers to go. I think the Falling Rock and Freshcraft type establishments would be good resources and great places to pick up the craft beers we crave.

    .. and maybe some of the onus will fall on us- the ones that do spend a lot of time reading and searching out great new beers. I make a point of getting the word out to my friends when I find a new liquor store with a good selection or wise staff. It’s like protesting in reverse. Or maybe it’s like preaching. Either way, if The Bill passes and and big beer starts taking over the grocery stores and strong-arm’ing in on the liquor stores, I’ll step up my crusade to get delicious beers in the hands of those I love.

    • http://denveroffthewagon.com PJ

      Great points. I didn’t even think about letting bars sell packaged beer, but that makes a lot of sense as well.

      And beer advocacy is a huge part of our industry. I’ve had some thoughts on gaming that… Maybe I’ll write about that one day!

  • Kell Benson

    I think this would be a good start to minimize the impact of the proposed new regulation, should the bill pass. My only thought is, if you aren’t cool enough to have friends to share with, would you really want a full growler of something super sour, or big? I guess telling people you have a growler might earn you friends. But maybe having bars be able to fill 22oz. bombers and have a crown capper, to seal the bottles. Functionally the same as filling a growler, and just have volume limits on carry-out purchases.

  • http://www.conkphotography.com CONK

    Bombers. Hell yea.

  • http://cobeerandfood.com will

    Size issues? Flipper bottles. The filling law should include 1L flip top bottles.

  • Taylor

    Valid. All of it. My only issue with growlers, presently, is the price.

    Not including the initial investment in the growler, most half gallon fills cost more than a few pints (the equivalent volume) of the same brew. Not to mention the discrepancy in price with a six-pack.

    I’m not sure of the various pricing schemes across CO, but I do know the pricing of growlers (and refills) doesn’t follow suit with other similar services. Take for example milk at Whole Foods. I put down a hefty deposit on a glass jug (equally as hefty as the downpayment), but i get cheap refills, close to the same cost of buying cheap milk at KingSoopers.

  • http://www.conkphotography.com CONK

    I’d suggest pricing would be a major issue here. I’ve seen that a beer bar in Portland also has the best bottle shop in Portland. It would be interesting to see how they make the pricing work?

    http://beervana.blogspot.com/2011/03/bottle-shop-pub-portland-phenomenon.html

  • Jeff

    I’m all for bars selling growlers, however, it won’t address the concerns that the breweries have if this bill passes (which I actually this is a false concern and don’t think will affect anything near what they are saying, anywho..)

    Although tap sales and exposure are great, the breweries are concerned about the lose of package sales and shelf space not tap sales. Simply selling growlers of beer at a given bar won’t in any way address this if it should happen. Sure you would get some exposure to some new beers, but so what. If you can’t go and get it off the shelf then what good is it? Also, how many non-beer geek enthusiasts are actually visiting most of the better beer bars in the area? My guess is the vast majority of the people going to them would seek out these new beers and more at the specialty shops anyways.

    As I’ve stated before and this may be off topic from the point of the article. The fear that any brewery has against this bill is based on the fact that they think their loyal fans and the great supporters of craft beer lovers in this state are basically lazy and not all that loyal. If the chain grocery stores doesn’t sell the beer I want, then I’ll go somewhere that does and get it. Also the chains aren’t going to sell the harder to find or most of the bombers, etc that the local liquor stores will. So that alone is going to keep people coming back.

  • Dave

    Growlers at neighborhood bars are the (green) wave of the future. (My apoligies to Tulane University for the use of their nickname… :)

    Recycling is great, but re-using is even better. The situation: you want some fresh beer for your backyard BBQ. Great Divide, Wynkoops, New Belgium and Strange Brew are too far away to get your growler filled. But, you’re a block from Pearl St. Grille, Reivers, Mo Jeaux’s or Highland Tap. Imagine taking that growler to get it filled with fresh-out-of-the-tap beer. A dream come true!

    PJ makes a great point about proper pours and sanitation. Done correctly, growler fills are the only way to go.

    Taylor also makes a great point about price. I can get 64 ounces of beer for roughly $10 (if you already have the growler) or a six pack of 72 ounces for $7-9. Get that growler price into the neighborhood of the sixers and I’m so far on board this boat I’m in the engine room.

  • http://www.merchantduvin.com Jasko

    Great Idea. Forget about bars pouring growlers, that’s not the battle here. The idea of a liquor store selling growlers is for sure a profitable idea. It’s actually quite common in other states. Liquor stores can purchase their own Growlers at wholesale for only a few bucks. Sell em’ to customers and don’t charge extra for a refill. If liquor stores want to drill into their coooler and purchase the hardware, it really doesn’t cost too much to hook up some beer lines. Another option is that they purchase a free standing unit. you can get one online or through a local restaurant equipment company. Either way, liquor stores that care about the craft and european specitality quality beers that are available, would/should jump at it. The problem lays with the lower tier liquor stores that sell mostly bud light and other cheap stuff. To them it’s not really not worth it to invest if they don’t have the beer geek clients. And they are probably indifferent to the idea in the larger scale fight with the grocery/convienance. At the end of the day, the growler concept in liquor stores should be legal reguardless of the on going fight. This is a seperate instance that just doesn’t seem logical.. that liquor stores can’t do this. Each state has their own strange liquor laws, but colorado is up there as one of the least logical.

  • Hanna

    I agree with Will and DenverBeerChick, the quantity is the big issue here. Don’t get me wrong, I love beer but 64oz. is just plain daunting. I feel like then I’m pressured to drink it all before it goes flat and I spend less time enjoying the beer and more time fretting about the race against flattening beer. I love the idea of bombers being sold at bars, but I find this to be kind of unfeasible as far as distribution from the brewery to the bar. Would distributors really be able to make their runs efficiently or effectively if they had to stock keg and packaged beer? For breweries that are having trouble with keeping up with orders, it seems dangerous to add more places where package beer inventory must be tracked.

  • Cory

    All good points, I especially like the idea of liquor stores and bars filling growlers, and flip top bottles or something of a smaller format.

    Price is an issue, you shouldn’t be able to buy a 6 pack of the same beer for less than a growler, even though the beer in the growler is going to be more fresh. Solution? Specialty fills, if the proper researching, and planning is done you should be able to get some interesting kegs that aren’t just things you’d buy a 6 pack of, then nobody would be complaining about price.

    Sanitation is a big issue, but equally as big is how you fill the growler. Growlers need to be counter pressured or at the very least filled from the bottom up rather than just pouring straight off the tap.

    I would be a regular at a “growler station” if one existed in CO. Basically just a place that specializes in filling growlers and getting new stuff on tap. However if a bar or liquor store took this on I’d be equally as thrilled.

  • BeerBen

    I know this is an old post but non the less-I am a Colorado Native who moved to Portland OR and lived there for 4 years. Their are many entrepreneurial opportunities for Colorado business if we could just get these laws to go away. In Portland and other states I know it is possible to have coolers with 6 packs, bombers, 4 packs, and what ever else. You charge a cork fee to open anything in the refrigerators, and they also have multiple taps of specialty limited release beers. Which means you can either drink on site with friends (and food trucks) or You can fill growlers, medicine bottles, and mason jars(not sure if containers are regulated) Togo-. Brewery’s like this because they can do tap take overs in small neighborhood bars where they can get their name out and properly market their beer. Mean while, health inspection can regulate how they are filled, any pouring certs these places need to have and also ensure clean beer lines from keg to tap. I never once thought about price while shopping in these stores in Portland, I just thought it was a great concept and liked the choice to enjoy in house, or at my house. What needs to happen in order to get the laws to change? I have always dreamed of having a beer store that has bottles and taps.