On my recent visit to the Kneading Conference in Maine, I stopped by Bigelow Brewing which was a sponsor of the event. (They pride themselves on using locally grown grains when possible, and even include some spent malts in the crust for their wood-fired pizza.) Enjoyed a solid double IPA which was also fairly priced—except that I had to pay an additional $6 for a Bigelow growler, even though I had another growler empty in my car.
What’s up with that?
Maine is one of a number of states that will only allow breweries to refill growlers (64 ounce jugs, usually glass) that have their name on them. These are the same bluestocking legislators that used to prohibit listing ABV on containers in Maine because they thought people would seek out the higher alcohol beers; it was later determined that knowing how much you are drinking helps you drink responsibly. Duh.
In California, they’ve repealed the similar law that required me to purchase a growler at Green Flash, but Tom McCormick, Executive Director of the state’s craft beer association says many of his members still refuse to refill such “third party growlers”.
Claims McCormick, “breweries are allowed to refill growlers from another brewery (with restrictions), but many (I would say most) choose not to. This is mainly due to concern over the cleanliness of the growler. Brewers know that growlers they provide are clean, and when their own growler comes in for a refill, they can exchange for a clean one.” He goes on to say, “… Most brewers are just as concerned about the branding of their beer as they are about just ‘selling more beer.’ A growler wrapped in duct tape with a label slapped over it just doesn’t work for most craft brewers.”
I have never, ever seen a barkeep say “hey, your growler is skanky, I’m giving you a new one for free”. On the other hand they’re usually happy to give your bottle a rinse if necessary. And the reference to duct tape above is about the bizarre requirement in some places (I’ve encountered this but can’t remember where) that you can refill a third party growler but you have to obscure the other brewery’s name.
If a brewery’s concerned about branding, they can do that best by making great beer. And the person who takes the trouble to bring in his or her own growler is clearly an enthusiast, a conservationist, and fiscally responsible. What’s not to love? Let’s set those third part growlers free!