I’ll have a beer to go, please

Hurray for craft beer, growlers, and local brewers! As was first published in BarTalk’s October 2014 issue, Kevin Yee celebrates this developing trend with a lawyer’s perspective on the liquor laws.

To the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man:” It’s one o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in. There’s an old man sitting next to me takin’ sips of his hefeweizen. He says, “Son, can you pour me a pale ale, I’m not really sure how it goes. But it’s crisp and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete, when I came here one month ago.”

This is the scene of a tasting room in one of many new breweries in the Lower Mainland. Craft breweries are popping up all over BC. According to Ken Beattie, Executive Director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, BC had 55 craft breweries a year ago. We now have more than 70. Next year, we’ll have more than 100. This explosion has also fueled the use of growlers.

Growlers are glass jugs for customers to get take-out beer. You can drop by many breweries to sample the latest batch, fill your growler, and take beer home to enjoy. It’s a great way to meet the brewmaster and learn about craft beer while getting beer straight from the source.

Growlers date back to the 1800s, before mass production. People would go to the saloon and fill up a pail or pot of beer. The name comes from the growling sound of carbonated air escaping. According to Mr. Beattie, growlers came roaring back two years ago as liquor laws relaxed for tasting lounges at breweries.

Storm Brewing in Vancouver started filling growlers just a year ago. Its owner James Walton finds it a great way to meet his customers. Nearby, Parallel 49 Brewing has been filling growlers for just over two years and now, they are filling 1000 each week.

Selling beer in refillable containers was addressed in the BC Liquor Policy Review. This report was submitted to the government in November 2013. It made 73 recommendations to modernize our liquor laws that are being considered by policy makers. One was expanding growler refills to liquor stores. This is a contentious issue.

The consumer advocacy group CAMRA BC (Campaign for Real Ale BC) has followed this issue closely. While CAMRA has no official position yet, its president Adam Chatburn shared his own views:

“Personally I would love to be able to fill my growler anywhere – the idea of being able to get a fill of something from outside of Vancouver/BC/Canada that isn’t available in bottles really appeals to me. Not only the convenience and variety but also the reasons why growlers are so awesome, like the lower environmental impact, not having to pay the bottle deposits, and tasting a few different things before choosing.”

The BC Craft Brewers Guild has a different view. They want to promote the interactions between beer enthusiasts and brewers that can’t be replicated in a conventional retail environment. Mr. Beattie adds, “we can be assured of the quality if the beer is from the source. This way, it’s the freshest beer possible – from the tank right into the growler.” Also, keeping growler filling at the breweries will support local brewers and promote beer tourism.

Craft brewing and growler use will only continue growing. We will have to wait and see how new liquor laws address and affect this trend. As the liquor policy report pointed out, it was only a few decades ago when BC turned its wine industry into a huge success story. Perhaps BC can tap into its tremendous potential and become a renowned place for great craft beer.

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this article. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.