Growler Freedom | California Breweries Can Now Fill Blank and Obscured Beer Containers In Accordance With New Law

November 16, 2013

Taking home 1-3 liters (and maybe up to 5 gallons) of your favorite San Diego beer may soon be a bit less cumbersome.  For far too long, the Alcoholic Beverage Control board (ABC) insisted that California law mandated that breweries could only fill growlers bearing their own distinct logo, i.e. a different growler bottle for every brewery.  With over 70 breweries in San Diego county, all those bulky bottles could take up a lot of cabinet space for the avid beer fanatic. Fortunately, this year, ABC revised its interpretation of the law to permit outside growler fills...but the requirements were still hazy.  Would you have to obscure the old label, or could you just cover it up with, say, duct tape?  Due to the confusion, most California breweries continued their refusal to refill outside/non-native growlers. Recently a law has been passed to clarify the growler confusion, and with that, Stone Brewing Co. revised its policy and will now fill blank and "completely obscured" growlers at all of their locations (no, not at the airport). Will the rest of San Diego's breweries follow suit?

AB-647 is an amendment to parts of the California Business and Professions code that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 8, 2013. It requires brewers to cover up all previous branding on the container in question, and to affix government-approved tags or labels with identifying information - the brewery's name, the name of the beer going into the growler, its alcohol by volume, etc.. Under the current ABC rules, breweries are permitted to obscure the old labels in a semi-permanent way, “not readily removable by the consumer.” Stone's website requests that patrons " classy. No duct tape!" and they will not obscure for you.

Another fun fact hidden in the amendment: beer manufacturers are authorized to refill a container supplied by a consumer with a capacity of up to FIVE gallons!  Cheers to big beers! Keep in mind that the new law does not require breweries to fill outside growlers, and many say they won’t despite the amendment. Most outspoken on the subject, Russian River of Sonoma Valley, California, has said they see their branded growlers as a part of the marketing, so they will not put their beer in someone else’s jug. Moral of the story - be sure to check with the brewery before showing up with a random growler.

AB-647, in addition to changing policy regarding growlers, addresses a technicality in the statute that did not allow a beer manufacturer to serve samples of their products to an industry trade association meeting. And because growler fills are limited to beer manufacturing facilities, it also narrows the definition of a 'beer manufacturing facility' to require that it actually own and use equipment to manufacture beer.

Word on the street is this is not the end of the growler battle, as next year, retailers will likely push for a bill that would allow growler fills at beer bars and stores (currently you can only fill growlers at breweries and brewpubs). That law would bring California in line with many states, where you can fill up a growler at nearly any place that has a beer tap. This could ignite a fight among retailers, distributors, and brewers, who are divided on the subject, as many want to keep retailers from entering the growler market, while others think allowing bars and stores to fill the jugs would result in even greater consumer demand.