Gov. McCrory signed the Growler Bill, HB 829 on Wednesday, so what does that mean? At Present you can get a growler of beer refilled at breweries and buy filled ones at bottle shops and other select stores. With this new law, and after some administrative rules and local sanitation practices are worked out, growlers can be refilled at bottle shops and supermarkets so that’s great right? It all depends on who you talk to.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a growler is, it’s a bottle of various sizes up to 72oz that is filled with craft beer goodness. You pay for a filled growler, drink it and then go back and get it refilled. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Well, there’s the issue of cleanliness related to how clean is that growler that’s going to be refilled? One of the worst things you can do to beer is pour it into a dirty growler, close it up and let it sit a couple days. The beer will become infected, have a poor taste and then who’s fault is it? For the unknowing, the blame would be put on the brewery, that the beer was rank and it’s the breweries fault for selling bad beer. Is it their fault? Maybe it’s where it was refilled and they poured the great beer but they poured from the top causing excess foam or the lines were dirty, etc. What if it was a sterile bottle, poured under proper conditions but it was left sitting in the fridge for two or three weeks? Flat beer – damn! Growlers don’t have the same sealed life as bottles and cans and then once you open a growler, you’re pretty much committed to finishing it off soon.
A lot of conditions can cause a bad experience and one of the reasons why the law isn’t taking effect for awhile. The state needs to come up with guidelines for sanitation, labeling, and other elements to hopefully keep all parties happy. Currently you can swap an empty growler for a sealed full one and things are pretty optimal at that point. You’ve enjoyed it and now you have an empty. Do you clean it and will it be clean enough? Will the refilling place clean it for you or just give you another? What if you have a really nice swingtop growler you don’t want to give back? How are the breweries going to handle the new law? Now you can only go to them to refill growlers so it’s sort of an exclusive deal but with the new law they have to supply other places with kegs to allow them to refill. Will their growler sales go down since it can be done elsewhere and then how does that hit their pockets? We’re not the first state to have this law, South Carolina is already doing it but they don’t have nearly as many breweries as North Carolina. I’m assuming there’s talk with a few people down there on how things are handled and maybe guidelines will be improved to help all parties concerned in our state.
So is passing the Growler Bill a good thing or a bad thing? I’m all for getting a growler of my favorite beer at a more convenient location but not when it’s at the expense that it affects my favorite brewery’s business. It’s also important that beer enthusiasts who haven’t really dealt with growlers (those rare 1-2%) know the limitations of growler freshness and also on the importance of its sanitation. As long as it helps NC craft beer, I’m all for it.