With rule change, Mass. breweries will let you fill up (almost) any growler

Jessica Bartlett
Reporter
Boston Business Journal

http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2017/05/24/with-rule-change-mass-...

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Any Massachusetts craft beer drinker knows the problem: you go to a brewery that doesn’t sell its product in cans or bottles, and so you get a large glass growler filled from the tap to go.

But the growlers, from dozens of breweries across the state, quickly add up — in both the deposit fee to acquire one and the space necessary to store them. In the past, a drinker could only get that growler refilled at the brewery from which it was purchased, adding to the cost and storage stress.

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Thanks to an advisory released Wednesday by the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, breweries will now be able to refill growlers brought in from outside the brewery.

There are a few provisions. The growler has to be “entirely blank” and devoid of any labeling of another brewery — meaning you can't get your Trillium growler filled by Treehouse. The growler also has to be empty of all alcoholic beverages and filled from a tank of brewery-made beer.

Check out our slideshow showcasing the breweries in Massachusetts slated to open in 2017.

The good news is the growler can be any size, and it doesn’t have to be glass.

The decision solves a two-year discussion among legislators on whether or not to change the growler laws. State Rep. Steven Howitt first filed legislation last year that would have allowed breweries in the state to fill vessels from other breweries. Though it was approved out of the House, it wasn’t included in language that went to conference committee.

Howitt proposed the legislation a second time this year, but it languished yet again.

The Massachusetts Brewers Guild had been pressing for legislative language that would have allowed brewers to “opt-in” to rules allowing them to fill growlers from outside the brewery. Breweries had been hesitant in the past to fill growlers from elsewhere, siting concerns over cleanliness and quality, improperly-labeled beer, and even pricing.

Rob Burns, president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, said the new language just introduces more confusion.

"We need a bit of clarification of what needs to go on the growler if it’s blank," Burns said.

Burns also questioned whether all brewers would feel comfortable filling jugs from other places. Though it doesn't matter for his brewery, as Night Shift Brewing doesn't sell growlers, Medusa Brewing Company spent thousands of dollars on a growler-fill machine that can only take certain sized growlers.

"Some of (the breweries) will be fine with it, especially smaller ones," Burns said. "Ordering pallets of growlers is expensive and a pain in the butt, especially if you run out which we did often in the early days. But ... if it’s a gray area we try to avoid it."

Massachusetts joins the ranks of Vermont and New Hampshire in allowing growler fills from bottles brought in from outside the brewery.

Jessica Bartlett covers health care, including hospitals, health IT, health policy and insurance, as well as the beer and marijuana industries.
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