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Lawmakers, Businesses Move To Sell Beer in Growlers

Refillable containers called growlers would allow beer enthusiasts to buy micro brews and seasonal ales that aren't bottled by distributors.

When Maryland breweries create limited edition or seasonal beers, enthusiasts in Anne Arundel County often have to visit restaurants or bars to taste them.

That's because small brewers known as micro brewers will often opt against bottling or canning speciality craft beers to save on costs.

"Over the years we have listened to different small businesses tell us they are a micro brewer, and they are having a hard time getting their name out there," Del. Cathy Vitale (R-Severna Park) said. "The opportunity to taste anything is limited."

Maryland law restricts bottling draft beer in refillable glass bottles called growlers to breweries.

That restriction could change by July 1—at least in Anne Arundel County—where state lawmakers like Vitale are backing bills to expand growler sales to liquor stores and bars with Class D liquor licenses.

The growlers would be allowed to hold up to 128 ounces or 1 gallon of beer.

"It’s an up and coming trend, by the end of the [2013] session we should have six or seven counties," Sen. Ed Reilly (R-Crofton) said. "The wheel has already been invented. We just want to bring the wheel into Anne Arundel County."

Reilly has sponsored his own bill in the Senate to permit growlers.

"The primary emphasis of our business is in craft and micro beers," said John Fisher, the owner of Staples Corner Liquor in Crofton. "They are the fastest-growing section of the beer market to where 35 percent of our overall business is craft and micro beers."

He urged Anne Arundel County's House Delegation to support two house bills, which would allow liquor stores in Anne Arundel County and Annapolis to sell and refill customers’ growlers with draft beers.

Howard County and Baltimore have already passed legislation permitting growler sales at locations other than breweries.

One concern raised about the proposed laws for Anne Arundel was who would be responsible for making sure the refillable containers were clean and sanitary when customers brought them back for a refill.

"The labeling ... on the back of the bottle says the consumer is responsible for the hygiene of the bottle," Reilly said.

Fisher added that a wet growler foams less than a dry growler, and he intends to rinse each one before refilling.

County Liquor Board Administrator Judy Hagner noted that liquor stores might also have to pass an inspection from the health department before selling draft beers.

"A lot of your packaged good stores are not licensed by the health department," Hagner said.

The only reservation Fisher had about the proposed law is the restriction it places on who can refill each growler. The law would require each liquor store or bar to label their growlers and only refill those bottles.

"When people come in the door on July 1 and ask me to fill up their growler, it's going to cause a lot of confusion," Fisher said.

Growler bottles range in price from $5 to $30 and beyond. Fisher said buying multiple growlers and making sure to bring the right bottle to the right retailer is going to cause a lot of unnecessary headaches.

"We didn’t want people bringing in milk cartons; we didn’t want Pepsi bottles," Reilly said. "We crafted [the bill] in such a way that the identifier is clearly visible to the retailer."

The senator is open to discussing an amendment in the future that would define growlers and permit retailers to refill a competitor's jug. Right now though, he's focused on passing the initial law for Anne Arundel County.

The two house bills will have hearings before the Economic Matters Committee at 1 p.m. Feb. 25. Reilly’s Senate Bill will have a hearing before the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

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