View Full Version : On the legality of non-brewpub growler fills...

08-06-2009, 11:45 AM
Howdy Probrewers -- Zak here from The Olympic Tavern in Rockford, IL. (http://theolympictavern.com)

A long time ago, the Olympic used to sell liquor & beer "to go." We grew away from the package liquor business, but given the tough economy we've been facing, I'm looking into generating revenue any way I can. Unfortunately, there's just no room for an in-house brew system, but we take great pride in our draft beer selection and quality, and so I'd like to add "filling growlers" as another convenience I could offer my customers.

According to my local legal experts, I'm allowed to fill growlers, but not by the state. I got ahold of Isaac ______ (sorry, can't remember his last name) at the IL liquor commission legal office. He informed me that filling growlers is currently illegal under current IL law, as it is "repackaging" a liquor product.

I understand why there is a repackaging law, as I don't want anyone putting cheap vodka in a Grey Goose bottle either, but I seriously doubt most lawmakers have ever even heard the word growler, and when that law.

A few years back, IL passed the law that allows wine drinkers to bring home unfinished bottles of wine in tamper-evident packaging (wine "doggy bags"). Why not allow my beer drinkers the same courtesy? Some of my high end beers cost more per/oz than my cheap house wine.

What's the legal difference between a pitcher and a growler, other than the cap? If the concern is having a sealed container for carryout, that's already been addressed with the "wine doggy bag" law and should be applicable to beer as well. I know some states mandate that you use a "heat seal" on the growler cap, making it tamper-evident -- a detail I could certainly live with.

If the concern is that retailers would somehow alter the product, wouldn't that affect every pour, not just beer to-go? Aren't I "repackaging beer for resale" every time I fill a pint glass? Hell, as currently written, the law even prohibits brewpubs from filling growlers with "guest" beers.

I know that several other states have fought this battle and won. Does anyone know of a resource, either through the Illinois or the national Brewer's Association that I could use?



08-15-2009, 07:23 PM
not just beer to-go? Aren't I "repackaging beer for resale" every time I fill a pint glass?

When is a growler a “bottle?”
A growler is a bottle when the brewer fills the container in advance of sale. The brewer may fill the growler prior to removal, on the brewery premises, or after tax determination on the brewpub premises.

When is a growler a “large glass?”
A growler is a large glass when a consumer uses the container to make a purchase and the brewer then fills the container. Consumers may furnish their own growler or may purchase it from the brewer.

More info TTB (http://www.ttb.gov/beer/beer-faqs.shtml#b9)


08-17-2009, 12:21 PM

Thanks for the reply -- I've combed through that law about 20 times now looking for a loophole. Unfortunately, the above law only mentions brewers and brewpubs; there's nothing about retailers - apparently meaning retailers simply can't fill them.

I had a meeting this morning with our state Senator who supports my proposed change. He contacted the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, and a few other industry connections, all of whom seemed to support this idea.

Of course, the legislation wouldn't even be officially proposed until Jan of this year, but at least we're on our way.

Larry Horwitz
11-08-2009, 07:43 AM
the key is that the wine is in an approved container (Cert of Label approval, state approval etc. ) and is in the original package.... the beer is not. In our state a growler is considered a 'glass' and it is legal to take out since it is filled at the point of use. Should be legal IMO. Get the law changed! BTW wholesalers and other bar owners will be on your side on this one. Good luck

11-14-2009, 07:49 PM
Okay... as a consumer I would love to be able to take growlers of draft beer home... and I can see the benefits to retailers.

But, I am curious though, do brewers really want this to happen?

1) Sure, more sales. Consumers will drink more, we can brew more.
2) We do mostly keg sales with little/no packaging capacity, this way they package the beer for us!

1) Does it distract our branding? Especially if we already produce packaged beer? Now it's in a "LOCAL STORE BRAND" growler. Do people still know/care what they are drinking?
2) How about potential contamination due to the draft line? do we have power over QC/QA issue?
3) Cannibalism on our packaged products? The profit margins on kegs and the bottles are quite different for the brewers.

Twist this question in a different way... how about for brewpubs with guest taps... is it 1) legal 2) in their interests, to fill the guest beer in growlers?

Again... nothing against your idea Zak. I will totally go up your way to get beer (next time I am in Chicago). Just want some open discussions, as I see brewers may have some conflict of interests with this plan.

04-18-2014, 01:54 PM
sorry for digging up this long dead thread -- not much progress in the last 5 years unfortunately...


Last week, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois formed a unified front against bars, restaurants and beer stores filling growlers.

The ICBG solidified its position in a letter to members from its Board of Directors which simply states, “The Board is not in favor of non-brewers selling growlers to the public.” The letter, which you can read in its entirety below, includes language of the current law and reiterates the Guild’s support of the statute as-is.

“[F]illing growlers is a well-established right or special privilege in Illinois that brewers (manufacturers) have in order to guarantee and protect the integrity and freshness of their product,” the letter states.

While the ABDI is not named in the letter, spokesperson Carol Shirley tells Guys Drinking Beer they met with members of the ICBG and discussed the issue in February. “ABDI stands with the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild on this issue, as we too believe the integrity of the product may be jeopardized,” said Shirley.

Of course, I (loudly) disagreed with this statement. One of the main reasons we joined the ICBG was because their mission statement claims their "core purpose is promoting the development and expansion of craft brewing in Illinois, .... being an effective advocate for fair and sensible laws that promote the interests of the craft beer industry and enable consumers to have access to the widest selection of craft beer." I feel this directly conflicts with their recent statement that only breweries should be able to fill growlers in Illinois. Instead of opening up more opportunities for sales, the guild is choosing to close down a packaging option that is already a highly successful sales channel in other states.

Concerning quality, if a brewer trusts me enough to pour their beer into a clean pint glass, they should trust me to fill a slightly larger glass with a cap. Other states have been through this before. Instead of learning from their mistakes and leapfrogging ahead, I feel that the ICBG and ABDI have taken a step back by limiting this sales channel/package.

Admittedly, I realize that the ICBG is a special interest group focused on brewers, not bar/retail owners, and that maybe the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association may be the better avenue to go down. But I am also thinking about my future as a brewer, not just a retailer -- I would like to have some stainless tanks in my hands in the next few years, and I would disagree as a brewer member just the same.

If the guild just came out and said, "look, brewers have a unique offering under Illinois law, and they're just trying to protect it," I would respect that opinion a lot more. I would disagree, again, based on their mission statement, but I'd respect it.

Hopefully this issue continues to evolve. I have kept my eye on other states' laws over the past few years, but I'd love some of your input on how this has played out your state, both successes and failures.

Cheers & best wishes --


Larry Horwitz
04-18-2014, 03:21 PM
Bars and restaurants have been filling growlers for take out for ages. What's the problem? I'll take anything that sells more great craft beer to deserving consumers.