Craft brewers cheer proposed changes to growler laws

Ryan Randazzo, The Arizona Republic 8:06 p.m. EDT March 18, 2014

Arizona craft brewers are anticipating a change in state law that will allow people to fill a wider variety of half-gallon beer “growlers,” including those made of stainless steel and ceramics.

A change in the law two years ago allowed more retailers and bars to fill the containers, but only if they are glass. A bill making its way through the legislature will allow stainless-steel and ceramic growlers to be filled.

The change will come at a time when the growler trend is taking off in Arizona, with Whole Foods, some Safeway stores, BevMo, Total Wine and even a chain of gas stations filling them with specialty craft beer, especially rarities not available in bottles or cans.

“In general, it’s great there are so many more outlets that sell growlers,” said Rob Fullmer, executive director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild.

Double-walled-steel and thick-ceramic growlers are available and legal to fill in other states, and because they keep beer-spoiling light out better and can keep drinks colder than glass, some customers have been asking why they couldn’t fill them at their favorite growler spot, Fullmer said. So the Guild asked for the change.

“For us it’s something we figured we needed to fix,” he said.

The liquor omnibus bill, Senate Bill 1397, has made its way through the Senate and is making its way through the House.Among many minor changes to liquor laws, it would erase the language specifying growlers must be glass in exchange for wording that will allow containers “approved by a national sanitation organization.”

Because 64 ounces is too much beer for most people to drink in one sitting, growlers are popular for sharing craft beer at dinner parties or other gatherings. Some stores also offer 32-ounce growlers.

“It is really interesting because you can buy a pretty fresh local product in the bottle, and sometimes people still go for the growler,” Fullmer said. “It is the communal aspect of it, very much like sharing a bottle of wine.”

Customers appreciate the growlers enough to pay a premium, as 64 ounces is less beer than a common six pack six-pack, though the growlers usually sell for more than a six pack six-pack.

They are a popular way to try rare or limited-production beers that are not available in bottles and cans, such as Piehole Porter, a dark beer with cherries and vanilla made by Historic Brewing Co. in Flagstaff.

Eric Seitz, general manager of the 4 Sons chain of gas-station convenience stores in the Phoenix area, recently tracked down Piehole Porter for his store on Indian School, one of his eight stores now offering growler fills.

“I’m not in this to sell mainstays you’ve seen for 20 years,” Seitz said. “We want the absolute most unique beers I can find. If I bring in something mainstream, the customer has no interest. Creating this craft beer is so complicated it is almost an art form.”

The 4 Sons stores sell empty growlers for $4, about half the price of many outlets. It costs $12- to $19 to fill the 64-ounce oz. growler depending on the beer, and the stations offer $4 discounts on Thursdays, Seitz said.

“We sell the growler to you basically at our cost,” Seitz said. “I want to get the bottle out in as many people’s hands as possible.”

The stores also will refill growlers from other retailers or breweries, and Seitz said he looks forward to changing the state law to refill steel and ceramic growlers.

“The metal would be interesting for taking to the lake,” he said.

Fate Brewing Co. in Scottsdale also does not bottle or can its beer. So customers who want to take home some of the company’s Amber Ale or Chocolate-Chili Milk Stout pay $12- to $16 for growler fills, excluding the cost of the glass.

“We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without growlers being available for us to sell,” owner Steve McFate said. “It is huge for us.”

The brewery sells 35- to 40 new growler containers a week, to customers, and many more refills. to those who already own the containers.

McFate doesn’t plan to offer bottles or cans of his beers any time soon, as he spends much of his time with experimental or new beers in addition to a few mainstays. In about 16 months of operations, Fate Brewing has offered 58 styles of beer.

“We’re just trying to keep up with tap sales,” McFate said.

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