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Friday, February 22, 2008

Cease & Desist, that jug is DANGEROUS!

I saw this on BeerAdvocate about half an hour ago: fella posting said that State Line Liquors (one of my favorite booze stores, and that's no kidding: we stop in here almost every time we get below Wilmington for beer, wine, and spirits) got a letter from the Maryland Attorney General's office telling them that they have to stop filling growlers for sale from their in-house taps. Here we go, I thought, either it's another New Dry with their panties in a twist about "jugs" of beer, or just some over-active bureaucrat enforcing what they think is the law, or maybe somebody looking to get State Line in hot water. Because it can't be a real problem, right?

I picked up the phone and called Robert Murray at State Line, we chatted about the weather (they've got less than an inch), and then I asked him, what's up with the growler thing? He laughed. "It's comical," he said. "They sent us a letter and said that since we didn't have a microbrewery license we couldn't put beer in a jug. But they won't give us the paperwork to tell us what law we violated." He explained that the letter had actually come from the county liquor board, but they were essentially just passing on a letter direct from the AG's office.

"We have both an on-premise license and off-premise license," he said. "No one called to ask what we were doing, and no one [from the AG's office] has actually witnessed what we're doing. Where did it come from? We don't know."

Could someone please tell me why growler sales are such an issue? Here you've got a place that can sell bottles, cans, and kegs of beer; they can sell pre-filled growlers. They also have an on-premise license: they can sell a glass of draft beer to a customer, who can then stand there and drink it. But filling a jug from the tap, right in front of the person, is somehow illegal? Tell me why. Is it labeling requirements? Growlers often don't say what is in them, but you're filling it right in front of the person. Is there no room in the law for common sense? Is it health issues? Why is a growler less healthy than serving it in an open glass? Is it a safety issue, are they worried someone might drive down the road and open the jug? Can't be: you can open bottles, cans, and pre-filled growlers just as easily.

I want to hear the reasoning on this one. And I'd really like to challenge all state alcohol agencies to open up their laws on this. Growlers are perfectly safe, they are just a glass of draft with a lid on them. They support local business. They do not encourage unsafe consumption in any way. Why not make a few reasonable requirements -- labeling for volume, that obnoxious federal "warning" wording, and a required visual inspection and rinse -- and then step back and let adults buy legal beverages in the format that they wish. I it legal to buy beer in Maryland, or isn't it?

It's been doing really well, we've been having a lot of fun. The county inspector did call us today. He has a meeting with the liquor board atty, we're trying to set up a meeting. It's comical. How about I just sell the bottle, like on eBay? No, I haven't gone that far yet.


Rick Sellers said...

Re: Labeling on Growlers

There's a local brewery that has stickers with space for the name of the beer and the ABV. Each time a growler is filled, the server writes the name and ABV, then initials it. Clearly they don't 'have to', but they're doing the above and beyond approach to growler fills. Just thought I'd pass that on.

It is bad that this guy gets a letter even though nobody has really witnessed anything, or seemingly looked into his permits.

Rich said...

"Is there no room in the law for common sense?"

Yeah, something like that...I think you have it figured out.

Anonymous said...

Damn, State Line must be huge to have all that variety.

How did I miss that store??

Unknown said...

Lew, I have to tell you I sympathize with everyone involved in this mess. State Alcohol boards seem to like to make rules because they think they can/should - but these rules often have no reality in the laws (at least not that can be validated).

Let me give you a slightly tangential yet related anecdote.

The performing arts center at our local university held an event yesterday called "Beers to You" It was a high-end beer and food tasting for a fundraiser. They paired each of something like 30 beers from a local distributor with an appetizer from a local restaurant. While Bud and Michelob were present, so were Sam Adams and Goose Island, the newest brewery in the state (Hub City, a promising venture), and they even had Hoegaarden (come on, that is adventurous for most in this crowd).

Anyway, two of the local homebrewing clubs had been invited to participate and serve their own creations. There was no money involved. We simply were donating our time and beer in an effort to help the "good beer" movement.

Two days before the event we were told that unless we held microbrewery licenses we would not be allowed to participate. Now I don't know about you, but that isn't an easy nor inexpensive process (let alone appropriate). We were told that
a) because the university holds a liquor license,
b) because the university bought the beer from the vendors,
c) because the attendees were paying to come, and
d) because the event was held on university property, that ALL participants had to have legal licenses.

In other words, if it had been off-site or if the distributor had DONATED the beer then the woman making the ruling would have allowed us to participate.

Three different people held long conversations with this bureaucrat in Des Moines, but no one could get her to budge. Sadly, nor could anyone get her to tell us which part of the law she was using to arrive at that ruling. Having served beers at three OTHER festivals that charge money and hold liquor licenses in order to serve beer at their events, I am not sure why THIS particular event was selected out. But in the end we had to do the safe thing and decline to participate (although the after hours party off-site was a lot of fun!)

Anonymous said...

bull malarky