The TTB issued a ruling yesterday regarding “wine” growlers that should be of particular interest to Oregon licensees because it conflicts with Oregon law. Oregon passed legislation in 2013 that made it legal under state law for most on- and off-premises licensees to sell growlers of malt beverage, wine and cider. The OLCC has created an FAQ detailing this law change. The Ruling is particularly important to any licensee that is currently selling wine growlers without a TTB taxpaid wine bottling house approval. The OLCC could charge such licensees with permitting unlawful activity for such sales. Permitting unlawful activity is a category III violation under Oregon law and is subject to the OLCC’s escalating penalty schedule.
The Ruling. In short, the TTB Ruling has held that the “filling of growlers with taxpaid wine for the purpose of consumption off of the premises is an activity that may be conducted lawfully only by a qualified taxpaid wine bottling house” (emphasis added). You can view the Ruling here.
Growlers are increasingly popular. Growlers are increasingly popular with brewers and consumers. Many, but not all, states allow certain licensees to sell growlers. States are also increasingly enacting laws that allow brewers and other licensees to sell growlers. In addition, advocacy groups are pushing to allow the sale of growlers in more states and to expand the privileges in states that already allow growler sales. This Ruling could substantially impact the continued growth of this trend, particularly for wine and cider growlers.
What is a growler? A growler is a container used to store, transport and dispense beer. Growlers are typically made of glass or ceramic materials and have a mechanism for securely closing the container. Growlers often hold 64 ounces, but can hold more or less than that. A properly sealed growler can maintain the freshness of beer for a week or more. The term “growler” is thought to date back to the late 19th century when fresh beer was carried from the local pub to one’s home using a galvanized pail and the sound that the CO2 made when it escaped from the lid as the beer sloshed around sounded like a “growl”. Consumers can typically bring their own growler to a retailer, or purchase a growler from the retailer at the time that it is filled.
Growlers and federal law. The TTB has issued formal guidance regarding beer growlers that clarifies that beer growlers are allowed. The TTB’s Ruling on wine growler explains that federal law is different for the various alcoholic beverage commodities: malt beverage, wine and spirits. Accordingly, the fact that beer growlers are permitted under federal law does not necessarily mean that they are permitted for other commodities, such as wine.
More on beer growlers. The TTB makes a distinction between when a growler is a bottle or a large glass. The determination turns solely on how the growler is filled. If a growler is filled in advance of sale, it is a bottle. If a growler is filled at the time of sale, it is a large glass. The distinction is important because a growler that is considered a “large glass” is not subject to Federal labeling requirements and “bottles” are. The TTB’s Ruling on wine growlers makes a similar distinction.
For those of us who were looking forward to the wide availability of wine growlers, this Ruling is disappointing.