Growler Follies

It’s been a long time since I sat down to write a blog post, but this recent hullabaloo over California growler laws is certainly a good reason to make some time for it!

Up until just recently everything seemed to be pretty cut-and dry here in California: Only brewers are allowed to fill growlers (with their beers only) and only into growlers that bear their approved labeling.  No exceptions.  Customers were frustrated at this but seemed to accept it with only a bit of grumbling.  Growlers were getting filled; brewers were selling beer; good beer was being consumed; people were happy (mostly).

Then, on February 12, 2013, things seemed to change.

That was the day that the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) held a workshop for its members at the University of California San Diego.  The title of this workshop was “Know Your ABC’s”, and the purpose was to educate California brewers on the regulations of the California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), and to help those member brewers stay in compliance with those laws.  During the first part of this workshop Jacob Appelsmith, the Director of the ABC, made a statement to help clarify California growler laws.

I was at that workshop taking copious notes, and I will summarize his major points as follows:

  1. California law does not define the term “growler”.  Since a “growler” is a container used to contain beer, a growler is therefore considered a container, and is subject to the California laws that regulate beer packaging and labeling.
  2. Any “container” can be used as a growler.  Even a dirty old milk-jug – as long as it bears the approved labeling of the brewery filling it, and as long as any non-pertinent information is obscured.  (He also offered “…however, I don’t think any of you would want to put your delicious beer into a stinky old milk-jug…”)
  3. By California law, “growlers” are not required to be sealed after filling and prior to the customer leaving the brewery. However if a customer opens that container before leaving your brewery, and walks outside of your licensed premises with an open container, then your brewery will be in violation of the law for allowing that to occur.

As an example of the above points, Jacob offered up the suggestion that if someone presents a brewer with a growler jug from a different brewery, that brewer would be able to cover the pre-existing brewery’s labeling with a sticker, and that sticker could bear the approved labeling of the brewer filling that growler.  As long as all pertinent information from the previous brewery is obscured, AND as long as the new sticker is the approved labeling of the filling brewery, no laws are being broken.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  Well, that’s also what somebody thought who was in attendance at that workshop and posted some of those basic points.  The problem – and where things get tricky – is that they didn’t convey ALL of the information that was presented at the workshop, and didn’t seem to pay attention to the remainder of the points presented in that workshop.  Suddenly there were bits of growler-filling information flying around the inter-webs, that weren’t entirely accurate, and seemed to promise growler-filling freedom to everyone!

The problem is that nothing actually changed.  The beer-loving public was lead to believe that a switch had been flipped and suddenly they could bring any container into any brewery and have it filled.  Not so.

First, Jacob’s suggestion about the sticker solution to the growler-labeling problem was just a suggestion, and not something that every California brewery is able to execute or afford, nor that every California brewery agrees with.

Second, there are other legal issues that effect California brewers that were not mentioned in the data-storm of growler-fill misinformation swirling around the blog-o-shpere.

The next speakers at the “Know Your ABC’s” workshop were Lori Ajax, Director of Trade Enforcement for ABC, and Matthew Botting, General Counsel for the ABC.  These are very smart and very important people that dove into some of the details behind Jacob’s statement to further clarify this issue.  Here is a summary of their major points relating to growler fills:

  1. The ABC does not make laws.  The California State Legislature makes laws.  The ABC enforces those laws that relate to the control of alcoholic beverages.  If you want an alcohol-related law (i.e. growler filling) to be changed, you need to talk to your state legislators and work through the normal legislative process.
  2. Owning an ABC license to manufacture, distribute, or sell alcohol in California is a privilege, not a right.
  3. The California ABC Act Code is the section of California State laws that relate to the control of alcoholic beverages, and it is the responsibility of someone owning an ABC license to understand and abide by that code in its entirety.
  4. The ABC Act is a set of permissive laws.  This means that the ABC Act grants permission to act in a manner that is otherwise prohibited.  In other words, if you hold an ABC license you can only act in a manner permitted by the law.  If the law doesn’t specify that you can do something, then you can not do it!

This last point is perhaps the most important and probably the most misunderstood among the beer-loving public. And I suspect that this is the biggest point of contention as California beer drinkers becoming increasingly frustrated with their local brewers’ recent growler-filling policies.  This is completely understandable since, as members of a free, democratic society we’re used to dealing with laws that only prohibit us from doing things.  If a law doesn’t specifically prohibit us from doing something, we assume we are free to do it.

However, when you own an ABC license (remember it’s a privilege, not a right), you are suddenly held to a different standard.

Now, let’s get back to the issue at hand – the “clarified” growler-fill laws…

First, all of us California brewers are scrambling right now, trying to figure out how to proceed.  Every growler-filling beer lover out there is coming into our breweries with only a partial knowledge of the ABC laws that govern us, but a whole lot of entitlement and attitude that we have to fill their growlers from other breweries.  Although the ABC Act does allow for the filling of “growler” containers, no brewery is required to fill any container it doesn’t want to fill.

Second, no California brewers that I’m aware of have adjusted their approved growler labels based on Jacob Appelsmith’s recent statement.  In other words, no one has acted on Jacob’s suggestion about “growler-stickers” for obscuring old brewery information, and displaying new (and approved) brewery information.  And therefore, no brewer that I’m aware of is able to fill any container other than what they are already approved for.

Third, consider the different sizes and shapes of growlers out there.  As a brewer, am I expected to have different sized or shaped stickers for each growler size/shape?  Should I be expected to carry all manner of growler-lids or closures for those different sized/shaped growlers?

Legal matters aside, the most important consideration in this  current growler-filling issue is your relationship to your local brewer.  You really enjoy their beer, and you enjoy supporting their business.  You’re happy with the fact that they work extremely hard to bring you the freshest, most high-quality beer they possibly can.  They’re happy that you enjoy their beer and support all their efforts.  Everyone enjoys being part of a friendly and flourishing industry.

Every brewery is different and will have different policies.  Aside from their legal obligations, these are the policies that make sense to keep them in business and to keep the quality of the beers at the absolute optimum.  If your local brewer declines to fill your growler (bearing their approved label) because it is dirty – respect that decision.  Respect the beer.  Don’t leave your growler dirty, because it can lead to the beer quality in that growler to diminish very quickly.  (And when you review that beer on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate or another site, that will result in lower marks than that beer probably deserves…which would be your fault!).  Don’t expect your local brewer to fill your Nalgene container, or Camelbak.  These are not containers intended for packaging beer and (legal issues aside) will not preserve the quality of that beer in the way the brewer intended.  Again, respect the beer and respect the brewer.

Ultimately (and probably soon), I’m sure the brewers of California will come to a suitable solution to this growler-filling confusion.  For the time being, most brewers I know are staying with the status-quo in order to stay on the right side of the law.  Perhaps some California brewer will have an approved label configuration for other brewers’ growlers. Perhaps the State Legislature will pass a law further clarifying the growler-fill situation.  Until that time though – be patient, dear craft beer lovers – the brewers of California are just as confounded as you, but also have a lot more at risk.  We admire and support our fans just as much as they admire and support us.  At the end of the day, at least we can still share a pint together – whether or not that pint was poured from a growler, a bottle, or a keg!

Cheers!

For more reading on the growler situation, check out these links…

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Beer Education: We got ‘da funk! All about Brettanomyces

 

Next up in the Beer Education series: Brettanomyces!

August 30, 2011. 7-9 PM

From “barnyard” to spice, pineapple to leather, these rouge yeasts produce a wild relm of alternative flavors in beer. Come learn about the little creatures, taste some amazing beers with pronounced brett character, and find out why winemakers tremble at the mere mention of the bugs.

This session will be more ‘tasting’ oriented than ‘technical homebrew’ and is geared toward all who love beer!

We’re capping the class at 30, so sign up now in our Online Shop

As usual, the taproom will be open early (6:00) for those attending, class from 7:00-9:00. See ya soon!

Women’s Beer Forum: Saison

Hello ladies!

Summer’s in full swing and it’ll be gone before we know it. So while we still have the opportunity, let’s enjoy some refreshing Saisons before they get replaced by the more robust beers of the fall.

We’ll try some variations of this traditional farmhouse style, learn a bit about the style, and most importantly enjoy some QT with other beer-drinking ladies! The cost is $12 and will include a flight of deliciousness, a flight sheet, and a fabulous time.

We’ll be pairing up with another female-owned food truck so be sure to arrive both hungry and thirsty!

Hope to see you all there!

 

Cheers!

-ting

Back to City Hall

Well, here we are once again, getting ready to head into another adventure in bureaucracy with the City of Los Angeles.

First of all, I just want to say thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of us in the last 18 months since we’ve opened.  And to everyone who has been inquiring about this new trip back to City Hall next week, in hopes to support us once again.  You all are the reason we have hope that LA might some day be considered a great city for Craft Beer.

Now I suppose I should just jump right into the details…Here’s what’s going on:

Over a year ago, when we were first granted our Conditional Use Permit (to serve beer to the public for on-site and off-site consumption), a land-owner in the neighborhood appealed the decision, and protested our land-use request.  Because of this appeal, we had to go through another public hearing to determine if the protester’s concerns were valid enough to overturn the decision and deny our Conditional Use Permit.  The results of that public hearing were in our favor, and the protester’s appeal was denied.  We were granted our Conditional Use Permit, but we were given an additional operating condition:  After one year of operation, we would be required to come back in front of the Zoning Administrator for a “Plan Approval” to determine if we have been complying with our operating conditions, and if our land-use privileges should be revoked.

Now, the worst-case outcome from the Pubic Hearing next week is obvious, which would mean that we could no longer serve beers in our tasting-room, and potentially not even be able to continue our brewing operations at this location.  That is definitely a worst-case situation, but probably unlikely since we have been strictly complying with our operating conditions, and have done everything we can to improve the quality of the neighborhood since we’ve been opened.  The best-case outcome means that we can keep operating for another 4-years under our current conditions (actually 3.5 years since the City took so long to process this file), at which point we will have to start the whole process over again, and re-apply for a brand new Conditional Use Permit (since our CUP was given a 5-year grant after being appealed by the aforementioned land-owner).

It is indeed very frustrating to find ourselves in the bureaucratic perpetual-motion machine of the City of LA, but in the long-run it may be just part of the price we have to pay to finally be considered a great city for Craft Beer.  Dare to dream….

If you are reading this post, chances are you want to know how you can help, so here’s a few suggestions:

1) If you can come to the hearing to show your support, that would be great!  The hearing is open to the public, so you’ll be welcome to say a few words if you choose.  If not, no worries, we’d just love to see your faces and feel the moral support.

2) If you can’t come to the hearing, you can write a letter of support, call the Zoning Administration office and tell them your opinion, or post the notice for our hearing (or a link to this blog post) on your Twitter, Facebook, or Blogs and spread the word!

Public Hearing:

When:   Tuesday, July 12th, 2011, 2:00pm
Where:   Los Angeles City Hall
             200 North Spring Street, Room 1050
             Los Angeles, CA 90012
Case Number:  ZA-2008-3392-CUB-PA1
 
For Letters of Support or Phone Calls:
   Office of Zoning Administration
   200 North Spring Street, Room 763
   Los Angeles, CA 90012
 
Zoning Admin. Office Phone:   (213) 978-1318
 
Please reference the case number ZA-2008-3392-CUB-PA1 in any of your correspondences with the Zoning Admin offices.

Thank you all so much for your continued support!!!

Beer Education: Hops Part Deux

Eagle Rock Brewery’s Beer Education Series continues with another in-depth study of hops. We will take a fresh, and different look into the role that hops play in beers and explore the characteristics of hop varietals. We will have a selection of beers hand tuned for this class to showcase those characteristics. You thought you knew it all when it came to hops…we’ll show you more.

The class will take place in the Eagle Rock Brewery taproom on Tuesday 6/28/11 from 7pm to 9pm. As usual, the taproom will be open at 6p for those registered in the class to come in to pickup the course materials and enjoy a pre-class beer. Cost will be $30 per person and registration can be purchased online.

Thanks and hope to see you in class!

Cheers!
-The Eagle Rock Brewery Team

Note: Class registration is non-refundable so please do not register for the class until you are absolutely certain that you will be able to attend. No exceptions will be made. The registration does not include a guest, so please do not bring guests with you and expect that they will be able to stay. All of our classes have sold out and space and class resources are limited, so as a courtesy to everyone involved, no exceptions please.

A New Brewery Comes to Town!

We are very proud to announce the opening of a new Los Angeles brewery! Our friends at the Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery in downtown Los Angeles, have opened their doors and released their first beer! Congrats guys!
Since they don’t yet have their tasting room setup, we’re happy to host them in ours, to share their first offering with all of you. Join us tonight to meet the brewer, Brian Lethcoe, as we toast our brewing brethren and celebrate the growing community of Craft Beer Culture in Los Angeles!

Tasting Room Hours:  Friday & Saturday 4 – 10pm, Sunday 12 – 6pm

Beer Activist Alert!

Hey LA Craft Beer lovers!  Would you like to enjoy more of what the Craft Beer world has to offer for LA?  Well, here’s how you can do your part…

The folks who brought you Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank, are planning a new, and even more spectacular project in Echo Park.  But…their liquor license is being protested by a small but loud group of residents.

We’ve dealt with this same sort of nonsense before, so you all know the drill.  Everyone (especially Echo Park residents) please show your support for this project by showing up to tell the City, and the Neighborhood Council how great this would be for your neighborhood.  This includes (but is not limited to the creation of new jobs!)  The Craft Beer world continues to flourish, even in our current economy, and has the ability to create community and a sense of locality for people of all walks of life.

There is a neighborhood meeting tomorrow night: Wednesday, August 18 at 7:00 pm at Barlow Hospital (Williams Hall)  2000 Stadium Way  Los Angeles, CA 90026

To learn more go to www.facebook.com/mohawkla.