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

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?

California Legislative Roundup 2014

A new year brings new California laws regulating the alcoholic beverage industry and in our first Booze Rules post of 2014, we’re highlighting some of the biggest changes. AB 1116: Supplier Entertainment of Consumers Events

An issue near and dear to many of our clients engaging in consumer tasting events, Assemblymember Hall’s AB 1116 extends and slightly opens up B&P Code § 25600.5, which provides a mechanism for suppliers to entertain consumers off their premises and without charge.  Previously, these events were restricted to in-state licensees (distilled spirits manufacturers, winegrowers, rectifier, distillers or their authorized agents) and could only be conducted at premises not licensed for retail sale with the supplier purchasing the alcohol for the event from a licensed caterer.  Under the new law:

- Events may now be conducted by out-of-state distilled spirits shipper’s certificate holders. Note that wholesalers, beer manufacturers, out-of-state wineries and beer manufacturers are still excluded from hosting these events.

- Suppliers may now hold events on licensed hotel premises, except for lobby areas and areas designated as a club, nightclub, or other similar entertainment and alcohol may be purchased directly from the hotel, rather than using a caterer.   This is in addition to venues without a permanent retail license.

- The total number of consumers and their guests allowed at an event may be up to 600 people, instead of the previous limitation of 400 people.  Event hosts are still restricted to 12 events per calendar year with an attendance of more than 100 people and 24 events per calendar year with attendance of under 100 people.

This opens up areas like hotel restaurants and cafes (and permits hotels to cater these events), as long as the hotel keeps other areas open to the public not attending the event.  This is a welcome development for qualified suppliers who were struggling to find venues for their events.

We expect the ABC to issue a trade advisory outlining the changes to this section in the near future. In the meantime, for guidance about the other requirements for conducting these types of events, please see the ABC’s previous trade advisory here.

AB 636: More Bottlesignings!

AB 636 from Assemblymember Hall amends B&P Code § 25503.4, the winemaker’s dinner law, allowing you to add even more signed bottles to your collections.  According to the law that went into effect last year (B&P Code § 25502.2), suppliers and their agents may sign bottles at promotional events at off-sale retailers, but the same privilege was not explicitly extended to on-sale locations in the ABC Act (despite winemakers so commonly signing bottles at winemaker’s dinners that many believe the practice was implicitly authorized by the ABC).  With AB 636, winegrowers, wine importers and their agents may now also sign bottles at on-sale locations such as a restaurant where a winemaker hosts a winemaker’s dinner (B&P Code § 25503.4).  Note that beer and spirits suppliers are not included in this section—the privilege for on-premises bottlesignings is only held by wineries and importers.  This will continue to expose the on premise venues that allow celebrities to autograph bottles of cognac, tequila, vodka and other spirits products to regulatory discipline.

AB 933: Distillers Can Charge for Tastings

AB 933, sponsored by Assemblymembers Skinner and Hall, amends B&P Code § 23363.1 (distilled spirits tastings) and adds § 23363.3 (brandy manufacturer’s tastings).  These sections create a limited privilege that enables distilled spirits manufacturers and brandy manufacturers, respectively, to charge consumers for up to six ¼ ounce tastes of the manufacturer’s own products on its licensed premises. Using the tastes at the distillery in cocktails is expressly prohibited. This will create difficulty for distillers who market their products for use in cocktails.

AB 647: Regulating Beer Growlers

AB 647, sponsored by Assemblymember Chesbro, amends the container labeling requirements for beer containers provided by the consumer to be filled for off-premise consumption (aka “growlers”) by beer manufacturers (also referred to here as breweries), who are more clearly defined by this bill as those who use their facilities and equipment to manufacture beer for commercial purposes.  The new law allows consumers to re-use growlers they previously purchased and had filled by one brewery, at different brewery, though each brewery can decide for themselves whether or not to adopt this practice.  If the brewery does adopt the practice, it must affix a new label to the growler containing all the mandatory information (brand and type, manufacturer and bottler), and completely obscuring all information related to the first beer that had filled the container (brand/name of manufacturer, etc.).

AB 779: Cider Rules

Assemblymember Bocanegra sponsored AB 779, which permits a beer manufacturer who produces more than 60,000 barrels of beer per year to manufacture cider or perry (pear cider), and sell to any licensee authorized to sell wine.  This is interesting, because California regulates cider the same way as wine, as cider is fermented from fruit.  California law also limits the alcohol manufacturer to one category of beverage per manufacturing site, meaning before this bill, cider could only be made by winegrower licensees.  Now large beer manufacturers with the facilities to make cider can do so, although note that the privilege does not go the other way—cider manufacturers do not now have the privilege to make beer.

Also on the Horizon…

Proposed Rulemaking: ABC Rule 106(d)

This isn’t a legislative update, but we wanted to mention that the ABC has proposed amending Rule 106(d), which currently permits suppliers to furnish alcoholic beverage lists to retailers, up to $25 per unit cost to the supplier.  If adopted, the proposed rule will raise the limit to $50 per unit.  Comments closed on December 30, 2013, so an update should be coming out soon.

AB 520: Streamlining the Consumer On-Sale Tasting Law

The Wine Institute and Assemblymember Chesbro are sponsoring a bill to update B&P Code § 25503.5 and add § 25503.57 to permit a supplier or its representative and the on-sale retailer to independently advertise a tasting event, and permits a wine and spirits wholesaler to conduct consumer tastings on behalf of the supplier without prior ABC approval.  These changes provide more flexibility for who may conduct tastings and enables industry members to advertise more easily to consumers without potentially violating the tied house laws.

We’ll be delving into some of these topics in more detail in future postings, so stay tuned for more Booze Rules in 2014!

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