Growlers: Not Just for Beer Anymore

In the past few years, wine packaging and dispensing in the U.S. has taken on new forms, going beyond the now-ubiquitous screw caps on bottles.  These include the various permutations of wine “in a box,” Tetra Paks, and single servings of sparkling and still wine in cans.  On-premise retailers are also increasingly offering wines on tap by the glass or carafe, which retain their freshness better than wines from open bottles. These new technologies offer a range of benefits, from environmental (reduction in the use of glass and the supplier’s carbon footprint) to economic (cheaper packaging and lighter, more efficient freight loads), to widening wine’s appeal to new consumers—particularly the younger set, who are more likely to welcome innovation and are less bound to tradition.

Enter the concept of growlers for wine.  A “growler” is a container that most commonly is filled with beer from a tap at a brewery or on-premises beer seller for the consumer to take home, drink, and then refill and use again. Originally a growler might have been a simple metal pail, but today’s growlers are likely to be glass or ceramic jugs.  Since they are reusable, they are better for the environment, fitting right in with the modern day “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethos.

Starting before Prohibition, when wineries sold most of their wines in bulk rather than bottles, wineries in California and elsewhere have been allowed to fill reusable containers for customers at the winery.  This has also been a longstanding practice in Europe (in France, where it is referred to as wine “en vrac,” it’s not uncommon to see a winery employee filling up a customer’s 1.5 liter plastic Evian bottle with wine from a hose).

Filling 'er up with Côtes de Provence AOC Rosé - Photo courtesy of
Filling 'er up with Côtes de Provence AOC Rosé - Photo courtesy of

But while many states also allow retailers to sell beer by the growler, very few states allow retailers to sell wine by the growler.  Oregon is one of the first.

Oregon passed House Bill 2443 in April 2013, which, for the first time in that state, permitted wine and cider to be sold in growlers (or, as worded in the bill, “securely covered containers provided by the purchaser”).  The new law also expands the privilege to off-premise licensees, so now restaurants, wine shops, and grocery stores can join breweries and wineries in offering growlers of wine and cider (as well as beer) to their customers.

The law restricts the size of growlers to a maximum of 2 gallons each, and any employee who dispenses alcoholic beverages into a growler must hold a valid service permit issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Some winery associations in Washington hope to have a similar law soon in their state, which currently only allows wineries to sell growlers of wine at the winery location itself, and not at additional tasting room locations.  They would also like to see wine growlers become legal for Washington retailers to sell.

Could California be next?