Pintful

Pintful: New NC law will boost beer growlers

jfrank@newsobserver.comAugust 20, 2013 

  • What’s On Tap

    Raleigh Beer Week starts Sunday and runs through Sept. 1. Here’s a few of the top events. Find them all at raleighbeerweek.com.

    N.C. Cask Bash

    3 p.m. Sunday at Flying Saucer, 328 W. Morgan St., Raleigh

    Try eight exclusive cask ales from North Carolina breweries sure to satisfy the rare beer hunters.

    Wicked Weed Tap

    5 p.m. Monday at Bottle Revolution, 4025 Lake Boone Trail #105, Raleigh

    The state’s best double India pale ale comes from Wicked Weed, a new brewery in Asheville that doesn’t distribute. The bottle shop will tap a keg of Freak, one of the few to leave the mountains.

    Food and Beer Pairing

    5 p.m. Tuesday at Capital Club 16, 16 W. Martin St, Raleigh

    The restaurant will pair plates with Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing and Germany’s Schneider for a rare beer dinner.

Before departing for the North Carolina mountains last week, I packed hiking boots and a few growlers.

The empty glass jugs clanked in the backseat as I navigated the tight turns that climb the mountains on westbound Interstate 40.

To taste the full extent of North Carolina craft beer, you need a growler – a glass, steel or aluminum jug that holds 4 pints or less – because some of the best breweries only sell their brews on premise, make small batches or don’t distribute as far east as Raleigh.

Growlers are a mainstay for craft beer enthusiasts, allowing them to try beers not available on the shelves and adding a “green” reusable quality. The apothecary-shaped, 32-ounce bottle, or half growler, is increasingly popular because it fits 2 pints, a more manageable amount.

But days later, on my way back down the mountain, my growlers still clanked empty.

The state’s current laws allow only breweries to fill growlers, yet many are too stubborn, at best, to fill one purchased from another place. It’s a frustrating policy – and one that is rare in other states, such as South Carolina and Michigan, where breweries happily filled my Trophy Brewing growler on recent trips.

Many North Carolina breweries don’t understand the law, erroneously saying they can’t fill other growlers, while some want customers to buy branded growlers and only fill it with their beer. The latter is an impossible equation for craft beer fans. In our house, the unwritten rule is no new growlers; too many already take up precious closet space.

Not all breweries are closed-minded. Natty Greene’s in Raleigh will put a label on any growler and call it their own, and Foothills has filled my half growler before. Still, they are the exception, rather than the rule.

Change on the way

But change may come soon. A law approved earlier this year will allow bottle shops, grocery stores and other retailers to fill growlers. The new law doesn’t require breweries to accept all growlers, but the competition should force them to rethink their policies.

The state’s craft beer enthusiasts have waited eagerly for the new law to take effect. Two months after the bill signing, the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is inching closer to rules that will allow the growler taps to flow. The commission accepted proposed language at its meeting Aug. 14, but officials said it will take another two to six months to get temporary rules in place.

As drafted, the rules would require all growlers to feature a label, whether a sticker or a tag, that includes the brewer’s information, type of beer, date of fill, alcohol content (if over 6 percent), and the standard government warning.

The definition of growler is adequately broad, allowing any with flip-tops or screw-on lids, refusing only plastic and pouch-like containers. It requires them to be filled from the bottom with a plastic tube, a move that will ensure the beer stays carbonated long enough to enjoy it. And the sanitation rules will put the onus appropriately on the consumers to clean and care for the growler.

“It will make North Carolina a friendly place for craft beer,” said Andy Ellen, who represents the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, the lead group that pushed the law this legislative session.

Shops are getting ready

At least one shop is basing its business model on the new law. Asheville Growler is opening as a place to fill with hard-to-find North Carolina brews and others from across the nation. Likewise, a number of bottle shops in the Triangle, many of which now sell pre-filled growlers, are preparing for the new law, eager to join the movement.

Before the proposed rules will take effect, the ABC Commission will publish the language in the official register and hold a yet-unscheduled public hearing in coming weeks, agency officials said.

Without major opposition, the commission could give the rules a final look and put temporary ones in place just in time for another trip to the mountains to bring home the deep, rich stouts that arrive in the colder months.

What I’m tasting

To try one of North Carolina’s newest breweries, no growler is needed. Hi-Wire Brewing opened in the former Craggie brewery in downtown Asheville and distributes to the Raleigh area. I picked up a six-pack of the Prime Time Pale Ale, an easy-drinking beer loaded with floral and piney hop flavor without an overpowering bitter bite. Stats: 5.5 percent ABV and 37 IBU; about $11. Info: hiwirebrewing.com.

Contact John at 919-829-4698 or jfrank@newsobserver.com.

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