This blog post is a slight diversion from the typical outdoorsy, national parks and wilderness posts that I normally put up. But since I’m into brewing and beer and many outdoor-oriented folks are too, here’s a quick beer law update for the state of California. Oh, and the below picture is of a growler I purchased at Dart Beverage Center in Stateline, NV, since Dart has rotating beers on tap at its “Moonshine Shack.” I am in no way affiliated with Dart, though they do have a very nice selection of beers.
If you don’t know what a growler is, you’re probably not into brewing or the craft-brewing scene. And that’s okay. Or maybe you just never bothered to get into it because your state’s laws aren’t conducive to drinking. Either way, there’s good news for beer drinkers in California.
As you likely already know, there are myriad laws governing beer sales, brewing, distribution, and pretty much anything else you can think of related to the consumption of that tastiest of alcohols, beer. (Bourbon could be in the running for tastiest libation as well, though this post is about a new beer law so I’m giving it top billing today.) But you may not be aware of laws governing the refilling of containers with alcohol.
Clearly, when you buy beer at the supermarket or liquor store, it was packaged and you purchased a labeled, sealed vessel of beer. And when you purchase a pint, liter, flagon, cask, stein, or any of a hundred other beer containers at a restaurant or brewery, and that pint, liter, flagon, cask, or stein is actually filled with beer, then you’re expected to consume it before leaving the premises of the licensed establishment where you purchased it. The seemingly difficult road for governments to regulate has been how to allow people to purchase fresh beer that’s filled at a brewery or brewpub.
In California, and a number of other states if forums on brewing websites are to be believed, laws regarding the refilling of growlers (large beer-holding jugs, often made of glass and usually 64 oz. in my neck of the woods) aren’t particularly well-defined. The previous version of the California law (Section 25200 of the Business and Professions Code) simply said that beer sold in the state needed a label which included the manufacturer’s name and address, and also the bottler’s information if the bottler was a separate business. A second paragraph in the section went on to say that manufacturers couldn’t use packaging which stated the name of any beer or manufacturer besides the one whose beer was actually inside the container. My interpretation of this rule would be that a California restaurant or brewery could only fill bottles or containers of any sort (e.g., growlers) as long as their label was on the container. Many breweries and restaurants in the state interpreted this rule to say that they could only fill their own growlers that you purchased from them.
While this seems like a CYA interpretation if ever I’ve heard one, that was the reality of filling growlers in California. If you wanted to have a growler filled, at most breweries they would only do it if you purchased a growler directly from them. A seemingly legal solution (I am not a lawyer so this was simply my interpretation of the law) would have been for breweries to put new stickers on everyone’s growlers. Or to add a tag to the handle somehow and put a blank sticker with strong adhesive over the previous brewery information. In my opinion this would have been compliant with the state law. At least the way it was written.
Lo and behold, California Assembly Bill 647 (AB647) amends the law to say more or less exactly that. The amended law will have an additional paragraph which states that any beer manufacturer who refills a container has to affix a label with its information while obscuring any other manufacturer’s information. The exact labeling methodology is not defined, but the law simply says that the label shall be affixed “in a manner not readily removable.”
Does this mean every brewery in California will fill your growler that you purchased elsewhere? Probably not. Some will still probably refuse to fill any containers except their own, hoping that all of their beer-aficionado customers will choose to purchase new growlers everywhere they go. I suppose that determination will be each brewery’s prerogative, but I know that I can’t justify spending the money to buy new growlers at every brewery and brewpub I visit. With the updated law, if a brewery or brewpub refuses to fill any growler except their own, it will be because they made that business decision, not because the state won’t allow them to. Because as long as they’re willing to put a label on your container, there won’t be a legal reason they can’t fill it.
As of today, the 16th of September 2013, the amendment is waiting for California Governor Jerry Brown to sign it into law. It has passed both the Assembly and the Senate with unanimous votes and was presented to the Governor at 3:30 P.M. on the 9th of September 2013. So while you might not be able to have another brewery’s growler filled in California today, the odds are you will be able to soon. Oh, but you’ll have to leave your full-size keg at home. Because the law limits allowable refills to a maximum of five gallons.
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online