After my first article to explain the difference between a brewery and a brewpub, today’s topic brings us to “growler sales”. Several people have asked me why they can get their growler fill in one place, but not the next.
But before we get started, what the heck is a growler?
Merriam Webster defines a growler as “a container (as a can or pitcher) for beer bought by the measure“. In essence, it’s a container that you take into a place that serves beer, you have them fill it up with a certain volume or measure of beer, and you take it home to drink. Before you think this has to be some other newfangled, hipster, modern way of drinking beer, let me assure you that growlers have a long history. In the 1800’s, before bottling or canning was widespread, workmen would swing by the local pub with their galvanized or tin pail that very often contained their previous lunch. They would hand it to the barkeep who would fill it up with the beer of their choice so they could take it home. It was the only way anyone could get their hands on some fresh beer after a long day. The name “growler” reputedly comes from the growling noise these pails would make as the CO2 slowly escaped from under the lid. As bottling and canning operations slowly become more prevalent, the workman carrying a metal bucket was replaced by John Doe carrying his six- or twelve- pack.
Fast forward to the 20th century. Small craft brewers could very often not afford the expensive bottling and canning machines needed to provide beer in easy “packaging to-go”. Re-enter the growler. This time usually made of glass or ceramic, adorned with the brewery logo and sealed with a flip-top or screw-cap. Now the consumer could walk into the local brewery, get some beer to-go and consume a quality draft beer not available in bottles or cans. As the craft beer offering keeps expanding, the same challenge still applies. Bottling is expensive and many smaller breweries only deliver their beer in kegs. The solution? The birth of the growler station. Think a bar with lots of taps where you usually can try a few smaller glasses to help you decide which beer you’d like to take home. Once you make your pick, they fill up the growler and you’re on your merry way.
So why doesn’t every beer store provided this service? Why do many beer stores only sell bottles? And why doesn’t every bar that has beer on tap allow you to fill up your growler to take home some well deserved beer?
Let’s walk through an example here in North Texas.
Several growler places exist in the city of Dallas. Several more exist further North in Lewisville, Denton, etc… This has led many to proclaim that Collin county, which lays exactly in between Dallas and Denton County, does not allow growler sales. Others think it is a result of the convoluted Texas beer laws. But as explained in the other article, the State of Texas only regulates the difference between brewery, brewpub and on-site vs off-site consumption. If you have TABC license for both off- and on-site consumption, let’s say a “BP” or a “BG” license, you should be able to sell growlers to go. Right?
Wrong ! A quick call to the Collin County clerk’s office cleared up the “Collin County doesn’t allow it” statement. They were very kind to explain that in Collin County the county only governs the unincorporated areas within the county. Outside of those areas, the decisions on where and how you can sell alcoholic beverages, is left to the municipalities (cities) within the county. This process on determining the so called “wet” vs “dry” areas, is called the “Local Option Liquor Election” and covers the sale of any alcoholic beverage.
In summary, under the “Local Option”, the local government can be one of three entities: the county, the municipality (city) or the local justice precinct. There are really ten distinct options laid out in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code and you find them all in Chapter 6. It goes all the way from “you can’t sell anything” to “you can sell beer, wine, malt beverages and liquor for on-site and off-site consumption“. And all the variations thereof.
In the case of Collin county, it’s the city ordinances that govern whether an area is considered “wet” or “dry”. Dallas county however, has deferred the decision on local option election to the different justice precincts within the county and city. That is why in some areas of the city of Dallas you can find a growler station, while others are still dry. In addition, you then have the city zoning laws that govern where and how you can sell alcoholic beverages.
But Collin county is generally a “wet” area? So why are there no growler stations in Collin county?
Coincidence really. After my chat with the clerk’s office, I started digging into city zoning ordinances. It just so happens that the municipalities within Collin County that I looked at have a very similar restriction in their city ordinance. You are either a retailer for off-site consumption or a bar/restaurant for on-site consumption. There is no provision in the city ordinances to allow an establishment to be simultaneously a retailer for on-site and off-site consumption. In addition, some of the cities are quite strict as far as allowing establishments that make more than anywhere from 50% to 75% of their revenue from alcohol sales. What the exactly threshold is, is, again, regulated city by city. And given that a growler station traditionally doesn’t carry food, several cities are reluctant to provide them with a permit. So theoretically you should be able to open up a retail store with taps and growler fills. But for off-premise consumption only. Which doesn’t make a lot of economic sense as it’s easier and cheaper to just sell bottles. A lot of the revenue of a growler station is still based on the on-premise consumption of flights and samples.
So what’s that all mean. How do we tie it together with the TABC regulations so I know where I can find what?
- If you are a brewery (B type license), you can’t sell beer for off-premise anyways, so there won’t be growlers in breweries. Or you could buy a growler with the brewery logo, but you can’t fill it at the brewery at least.
- If you are a brewpub (BP), you can sell your own and 3rd party beer for on-premise consumption. Whether you can provide growler fills will depend on the local regulations by the county, municipality or precinct. Why some BP’s only sell their own beer has more to do with distribution as explained previously.
- If you are a pure retailer (BG), you can sell beer for off-premise consumption. Whether you can do growler fills and provide an on-premise consumption taste room, will also depend on the same local regulations.
Confused ? I think we all are. Several lobbying organizations trying to protect the interests of the Texas craft beer world by fighting for new legislation are working hard to get us closer to other states. Open the Taps has been the most active and I can highly recommend supporting them whenever you can. And perhaps one day, we won’t have to get a headache of trying to figure out who has what license and where they are located. Perhaps one day, we can just walk into any brewery, brewpub, retailer, sit down, have a few samples and fill up some beer to go.
I’ll drink to that.