Beer drinkers will be able to get growlers of their favorite brew filled at places other than microbreweries or brew pubs under under a new rule being readied by state Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Michael Langley, who directs the agency's administrative division, called the move to allow retailers to install "growler stations" -- where 32- or 64-ounce containers can be filled from kegs for off-premises consumption -- a response to consumer demand for craft brews where market competition is on the rise.
"Growlers are kind of a growing trend nationally," Langley said Tuesday.
Langley expects to have the new rules in place by July 1 to allow holders of retail beer or native beer permits to obtain "endorsements" allowing them to fill containers that hold at least 32 ounces directly from kegs for off-premises consumption. Growlers are typically made of glass and hold 64 ounces.
Growler sales in Arkansas will no longer be limited to brew pubs or microbreweries, he said. The new rule will allow grocery stores and convenience stores, as well as bars with retail beer or native retail beer permits to obtain permission to fill growlers every day of the week except for Sundays. Holders of native brewer and microbrewery restaurant permits will still be able to sell growlers on Sundays.
Russ Melton, president of Diamond Bear Brewing C0., which is in the process of moving from Little Rock to North Little Rock, said growler sales often provide a "home-field advantage" to smaller breweries, especially craft beer brewers.
"I think that it has potential," Melton said. "My experience with growler sales in other states is that probably helps and favors local breweries -- craft breweries for sure and local breweries even more so."
Melton called the new regulation "a positive thing that will give us more exposure and more opportunities to sell the product."
Ian Beard, co-owner of Stone's Throw Brewing, which has a taproom at Ninth and Rock streets in Little Rock and provides beer to four restaurants, agreed the plan has the potential to expand sales and exposure of locally produced beer.
Beard and Melton both said much will depend on how much of a commitment retailers make to selling locally-produced beer through their growler stations. Langley said that the new rule will allow retailers to fill growlers with any keg beer, subject to alcohol content limits.
"Growlers for a small brewery are the only way to package beer and send it out to the public," Beard said. "It's something that all the breweries ... did before they had bottling lines."
Melton called the potential for lost growler sales to out-of-state brews a concern, adding, "We certainly hope that the people that sell the growlers support the local craft beers."
Langley described the growler endorsement as an "economic development tool," noting that the number of microbreweries in the state has grown from just two to more than a dozen in the past few years. He said the proposal hasn't drawn any negative feedback.
"Some of these guys are so small, they can't produce or don't have the ability to bottle or can enough product to expand their markets," Langley said. "Now, you're going to be able to do a keg and put that keg out there where somebody can draw from it."
Since beginning the process, Langley said he's learned that growler stations are a growing market and he's been contacted by convenience stores interested in offering them to customers. At trade shows for grocery stores and convenience stores, vendors are offering growler stations where the vendor will set up and maintain the growler station in space provided by the store, he said.
"The real question with all this is whether it's going to be a flash in the pan," Langley said, noting current consumer trends favoring locally-produced products such as craft beers. He said consumers view growlers differently than cans or bottles of beer, typically buying growlers of craft beers to share on social occasions.
Langley said that liquor stores also might take advantage of growler stations that would allow them to sell beers with higher alcohol content. A new liquor store being constructed in Fort Smith, Sodie's Wine and Spirits, is installing a "growler filler station," the Southwest Times Record reported Tuesday.
Under the rule being considered, a customer would go into a permitted store or restaurant where he would pay to have the growler filled and have his identification checked to ensure he is old enough to purchase alcohol. Then, a clerk would have to fill the growler, Langley said. Then, the container would be sealed, and information attached noting the date of sale, where it was sold, the product, its alcohol content, and the name of the brewery where it was made. Labels would also have to include government mandated health warnings.
The kegs would have to be provided through an Arkansas-licensed wholesaler or native brewer.
Langley said so far, the agency hasn't developed any rules dealing with growler deposits, refilling policies or standards for cleaning used growlers.
Although Beard doesn't expect Stone's Throw to immediately take advantage of the growler station rule, he expects it will help small breweries build their brand.
"At least for the initial offering, we're hoping that we're going to have a lot more Arkansas beer, a lot more growlers being filled off-site from local breweries," Beard said. "That will be a great way to promote Arkansas breweries in other parts of the state."
Business on 05/14/2014