Friday, December 6, 2013
Imagine walking into your favorite beer store. Maybe it's Bier Cellar on Forest Avenue, perhaps it's a little farther down the road at RSVP Beverage, or in the Old Port at Maine Beer and Beverage Company. When you walk in, you are greeted by the usual selection of bottled beer, but you see something new as well. Instead of being limited to what can be bottled or put in cans, you could also have the option to fill a growler - a glass refillable container - with local beer from all over the state. These beers might include those that you would never have the chance to otherwise sample unless you took a trip to the brewery itself.
This fantasy may not be far from reality. In response to the growth of craft beer in New England and Maine, a new piece of legislation is on the table that would modify the law to allow for the filling of growlers in retail locations like beer and grocery stores. However, when I started talking to colleagues about this, they were surprised that it wasn't already allowed in Maine because it is more widely embraced in other states. When I go home to visit family in New York, there are even small convenience stores and gas stations offering growler fills as part of their business.
This may seem like a small technicality, but enacting this new law might change the local beer landscape quite significantly. "An Act Concerning the Ability of Off-premises Liquor Licensees To Dispense Liquor in Sealed Refillable Containers" (Also known as LD 1082) was introduced to the Legislature in March. The text (read the full text) of the law states that beer would be able to be dispensed into a "sealed refillable container" and then consumed off-premises. Any business with an off-premise retail license that allows them to sell bottled beer would be able to offer growler fills if this piece of legislation passes.
To get the perspective of someone in a state that allows retail growler fills, I asked Tiffany Adamoswki, Co-owner and Shopkeeper of 99 Bottles, a specialty beer store in Washington state. 99 Bottles stocks over 1200 different types of beer in the store, and also can order kegs for customers. Another service offered includes the ability to fill growlers.
At 99 Bottles, it works like this:
- Customers approach a counter to order growlers
- Customers review a whiteboard of the 8 available beers, listed by number
- Customers bring up their clean glass growler and order the beer by number, and leave their name
- The beer then gets 'tagged' so that it's returned to the right customer once filling is complete
Tags include the beer and brewery name, style and ABV, as well as any other pertinent details about the beer. "This is so they have all this pertinent important info when they get home to their drinking destination," Adamoswki says. 99 Bottles also uses a CO2 counterfill system. The CO2 replaces the oxygen when filling, leading to a longer shelf life of the growler and ultimately fresher beer. A typical growler filled with this method can last 4-6 weeks (instead of only a few days for other types of systems). Either way, the beer that you want goes home with you - without having to drive very far to get it.
This may please beer geeks, but is filling growlers all that important to the business as a whole? Adamoswki thinks so. "The growler portion of the business has been invaluable. Its additional income has allowed us to hire additional staff (two part-time and one fill-in) which has helped me get back on overlooked office management tasks."
From my perspective - as a craft beer consumer - I can see many benefits to this small rule change. As Tiffany mentioned, this may also create more jobs in both the retail side and the brewery side of the business. Not only would beer that is normally only available at a brewery reach more potential customers (increasing the demand for more beer in more locations), it would also free up more breweries to open in small communities, without worrying if there was enough of a customer base to support a brewery or brewpub there. On the other hand, for beer retailers, having an increased selection of beer - especially without taking up a ton of shelf space with bottles or cans - can be achieved in small spaces.
As with any change, there are concerns and unanswered questions of course. Retailers would need to be responsible for maintaining clean and sanitary tap lines, and those that don't have experience in that area may have trouble or additional cost to keep the kegs line clean. Consumers would also have to trust that the retailers have properly stored the beer that they are getting - something that I think would be easier for retailers already familiar with beer. Also, specific laws regarding size, quantity, labeling, or any details about the types of growlers permitted would have to be considered.
However, at this early stage, as a beer lover and a small business supporter, I can only see positive outcomes for the Maine beer community with this. As far as I'm concerned, it looks like one small step for beer… one giant leap for beer-kind.
Photo courtesy of 99 Bottles Tweet
Carla Companion is a craft beer lover and investigator of all things beer. She started a craft beer website and blog thebeerbabe.com in 2007, sharing her thoughts as she explored what was new in beer, as well as brewery visits, trips and "beer adventures." Moving to Portland in 2009, she found herself surrounded by the Maine beer community and has been exploring it ever since.
In her blog, Carla profiles craft beer (and some mead and cider, too) being brewed in Maine, as well as looks into the people, places and stories behind the beer that makes the community so vibrant. Join Carla on her beer adventures and advice on where to get the best, newest, and most interesting fermented drinks around.
Carla can be contacted at askthebeerbabe [at] gmail.com or on twitter at @beerbabe.