Brewers, Growlers and Scofflaws

I’ve been in California a whole week now, and in addition to spreading holiday cheer with my family, I’ve continued my tour of local breweries where I order a flight.

Earlier this week, my mom and I headed to Little Tokyo near downtown Los Angeles. Over the years, I really got to know that neighborhood over the years, and Little Tokyo became my favorite neighborhood in LA. It’s centrally located with a good deal of public transit, including nearby Union Station. There’s some really good food in the area, and there’s a burgeoning nightlife scene, albeit an increasingly trendy one. And, of course, there’s also a brewery tap room at Angel City.

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I tried to visit Angel City Brewing some years ago with a New York transplant friend, but it was closed at the time. Sarah and I went last year, and I finally managed to get a couple of pints last New Year’s Day, including an unusually light-colored stout.

Angel City Stout

After running a few errands with my mom near Little Tokyo, we headed to the brewery where I bought a flight to sample their offerings and to fill a half-gallon growler I bought at the brewery.

Angel City Brewing

She also kicked my butt at Jenga. Twice.

Angel City Brewing

After Christmas, it was time to venture on the town, lest I go completely stir crazy. Fortunately, the Antelope Valley actually has more than one local brewery. In addition to Bravery Brewing off Avenue L in Lancaster, there’s also Kinetic Brewing, full-fledged brew-pub on Lancaster Boulevard. As is my style, I ordered a flight of seven of their beers. At $10, it was an absolute steal.

Kinetic Brewing

When it came to time to leave, I took out my Angel City half-gallon growler and asked that they fill it. They refused because the growler came from another brewery. The only way they would let me buy beer to-go was if I bought a new glass growler from them. Perhaps emboldened by a few of their beers, I took to Twitter.

Nothing significant came of it, but I wondered why they refused to fill a growler from another brewery.

Was it a business decision? If so, it’s really short-sighted. Sure, they’re giving up a dollar or two on selling a new growler, but I’m offering them money to spill some beer into a glass receptacle. What difference does it make who put their trademark on it? Or…

Was it a regulatory issue? Is it not legal in California to fill a growler from another brewery?

It turns out, that it is the latter.

In California, a glass growler is subject to the same labelling requirements governing other containers, such as cans, bottles and kegs. The list of requirements is quite long, but the most relevant requirements for each label are…

  • the name and location of the manufacturer (city and state) and bottler (if different).
  • the name of the beer in the container.
  • the alcohol content, if 5.7% abv or greater. It is optional if below.
  • the net contents of the container.

As a workaround, any brewery is free to place their own sticker on a bottle, but the letter of the law is quite strict about doing so:

Any and all information pertaining to another beer manufacturer other than the licensee filling/selling the container must be obscured. All text and logos from a previous brewery must be obscured.

The California Craft Brewers Association, which published a Growler Clarification document for its members, also offers them a list of best practices in marketing growlers to their thirsty customers. As far as meeting the labelling requirements, they recommend brewers use a label that hangs from the neck of the bottle, instead of printing onto the glass bottles.

The California Craft Brewers Association recommends these hanging neck labels for growlers

As a loyal craft beer drinker, I hope that, in time, brewers throughout the state adopt this particular labelling technique. It is presumably cheaper than printing your own bottle, and it will make it easier for everyone to enjoy their products without resorting to acting like scofflaws.

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