Brew Talks San Francisco: California’s Impending Growler Battle

Tom McCormick and Chris Furnari discuss growler policy at Brew Talks San Francisco

California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) executive director, Tom McCormick, had a message for small brewers attending Wednesday evening’s Brew Talks meetup in San Francisco.

“I am here to prepare everybody for what will play out to be a pretty epic political battle,” he said.

McCormick answered a myriad of questions concerning a potential bill that would give California retailers the ability to fill and sell to-go containers, or growlers, of beer.

There is currently no formal proposed legislation that would give on-premise and off-premise retailers the ability to fill growlers but McCormick said a bill could be on the table in 2014.

“Only beer manufacturers have the privilege of filling containers of beer,” he told the standing-room only crowd of beer industry professionals. “A lot of brewers feel that is a nice privilege to have. Retailers would like the ability to fill growlers but there are mixed feeling from the craft brewing community.”

California craft brewers in favor of allowing retailers to fill growlers say they’ll sell more beer and argue that it will continue to stimulate the craft beer movement by introducing new customers to small batch beer, McCormick said.

But not all California craft brewery owners feel the same.

“It will benefit some [brewers] more than others,” McCormick said. “If you sell everything through the tasting room and you have a Whole Foods three blocks away, that will put a dent in your business.”

But the overriding concern from the craft brewers attending Brew Talks seemed to be quality. One one audience member questioned retailers’ ability to educate consumers on how to properly treat a growler of fresh beer.

“Further educating the consumer and the retailer about growlers would be a positive step,” McCormick said.

There are other considerations too, like labeling, package size and the types of retailers that would be allowed to fill the containers. McCormick said the CCBA will look to current growler policy in other states as they begin forming a position.

“We are in fact-finding mode,” he said. “One thing we will absolutely do is talk to brewers, state guild leaders, consumers and retailers in other states that do allow it. We want to do what is best for our membership, the consumer and [what is] best for everybody. We are looking at the long-term health of our industry.”

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