Lawmakers pass bill allowing beer drinkers to refill growlers

  • Amir Bramell fills up a growler at Russian River Brewing Company, in Santa Rosa, on Wednesday, September 4, 2013.
    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Fresh beer fans in California may find it easier to buy their favorite brews by the jug if the governor signs a bill clarifying the rules on when and how breweries can refill the popular reusable containers known as "growlers."

The state Legislature passed a bill late last week explicitly lifting a longtime ban on brewers filling growlers that did not originate at their own brewery, opening the way for consumers to bring in their own vessels to be filled from the tap. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had relaxed those rules earlier this year, but confusion over exactly how breweries should handle outside growlers had led many to hesitate to allow them.

"Growlers are a relatively new phenomenon, and without a doubt the statute we have in California was not written with them in mind," said Tom McCormick, executive director of the 300-member California Craft Brewers Association, which lobbied for the change.

A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown declined to say whether the governor intended to sign the bill, but the sponsor, Assembly member Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, seemed optimistic after introducing the governor to the idea of a growler at a social event earlier this year, pouring him a glass of Russian River Brewing's flagship Pliny the Elder.

"He seemed surprised to get draft beer at a social event where there were no taps," Chesbro said.

Growlers are typically glass or plastic jugs, less commonly metal, that are resealable with a screw top or locking flip cap. They vary in size, but most commonly they are either half-gallon or 2-liter capacities. State laws on growlers vary widely, with some banning them or limiting the sizes and others allowing almost any kind of container to be filled by any establishment selling beer on tap.

The new rules passed by California's Legislature specify that breweries may fill outside growlers only if any outside labeling or logos are completely obscured, replaced by detailed information on the maker and type of beer inside.

The bill mirrors the changes made by the ABC in February but is more specific. Under the current ABC rules, McCormick said, breweries are allowed to obscure the old labels temporarily, simply by slipping a sleeve or paper bag over the outside. The new legislation will make clear the old information needs to be covered more permanently, using tape or opaque shrink wrap, or else eradicated entirely.

But the legislation does not require brewers to fill outside growlers and some have vowed not to do so.

Most prominently, Santa Rosa's Russian River has said it will not fill anything except the distinctive narrow-necked vessels bearing the Russian River logo. Owners Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo posted a note online explaining their decision earlier this summer, raising concerns about the cleanliness of outside growlers and the possible difficulty of using other shapes and sizes on a filling system designed for their custom model.

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