Retailers in North Carolina, including grocery stores, bars, restaurants, and specialty beer and wine shops, may soon be allowed to fill and sell growlers to customers for off-premises consumption if new legislation currently being considered by the North Carolina General Assembly goes into effect.
On 6 May 2013, the North Carolina House passed House Bill 829, which would allow the expansion of growler sales by retailers. The legislation will now be considered by the North Carolina Senate, and if passed by the Senate, will be effective immediately upon signature by the Governor.
Growlers are defined in North Carolina as refillable containers no larger than 2 liters into which beer is poured for off-premises consumption. See 04 NCAC 2T.0308.
North Carolina law currently allows only breweries to fill growlers for off-premises consumption. Breweries may fill growlers with the brewery’s own beer, or may refill customers’ growlers from other breweries, provided that the brewery affixes a label to the growler that displays the brand name of the product, the name and address of the brewer or bottler, the class of product (such as beer, ale, porter, etc), the net contents, and a description of whether the beer is fortified with any stimulants, including the amounts. See 04 NCAC 2T.0308; 04 NCAC 2T.0303. Breweries that refill growlers sold by other breweries must “relabel the growler prior to filling it” and must also “remove, deface or cover any permanent or non-permanent labels prior to affixing a new label.” See 04 NCAC 2T.0308.
The proposed new legislation would expand the law beyond breweries to allow retailers, including grocery stores, bars, restaurants, and specialty beer and wine shops, to fill growlers of draft beer to go, provided that the retailer complies with all labeling requirements required by law, as summarized above, and provided that the growler is resealable and is properly cleaned and sanitized. Retailers must also include on the new label the identification of the retailer’s name and the date the growler was filled or refilled.
The labeling requirements may prove onerous for some retailers but may also help alleviate concerns that some craft brewers have about quality control of their products. As stated by Win Bassett in his article “Education May Solve Growler Worries” published on 26 January 2012 in All About Beer Magazine, craft breweries surrender some level of quality control of their products when they release kegs to bars and restaurants, who have different beer storage, temperature, and draft line requirements. When retailers fill growlers for customers, there is also a chance that the retailer may not clean, fill, or seal the growler properly, which can lead to a spoiled product and a customer who becomes unhappy with a particular brewery’s products, through no fault of the originating brewery. The proposed labeling requirements would let customers and breweries know which retailer filled the beer and on what date, in case there are any concerns about quality of the product.
The proposed new legislation should be a positive development for breweries, beer suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers in North Carolina, who will be able to sell more beer and expand their selection of products to customers. The proposed new legislation may also spark the arrival in North Carolina of new “growler filling stations,” which include retail outlets with names like “Ale Yeah Beer,” “Growler Nation,” and “The Community Tap,” where customers can buy or bring growlers to get a fill of local craft beer to go, straight from the tap from a large keg line-up. Growler filling stations are already present in neighboring states such as South Carolina and Georgia, which have growler laws similar to what is proposed in North Carolina.
While some opponents may argue that the proposed legislation may encourage the “to go” sale of draft beer to customers in poor, urban areas by retailers such as gas stations, this is unlikely to be the case. Because of the time and cost involved to purchase the necessary equipment and to properly fill, label, and sell growlers, growlers of beer will typically be more expensive than other malt beverage products already available on gas station shelves. For that reason, it is unlikely that customers will fill growlers of mass market national brands, and demand for growlers is instead likely to be focused on craft beer selections.
Overall, the proposed legislation should provide more choices to customers and is another important step in the explosive growth of the craft beer industry in North Carolina.