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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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.

Tonight at The 5th Amendment…

Tonight, The 5th Amendment Alehouse in Santa Monica, will be hosting a meet the brewer night featuring Eagle Rock Brewery!  Jeremy will be there from around 5:00 – 8:00 pm to talk about malt, hops, yeast, brewing, and all other beer-related things.  Word on the street is that our Revolution XPA might also make a special appearance…

The 5th Amendment is currently the only place carrying our beers on the west-side of town, so if you have an aversion to traveling east of La Cienega, this is your chance to stop in for a pint and say “hi”.  See you there!

Doug King Memorial Homebrew Competition

The Doug King Memorial Homebrew Competition is an annual event hosted by the Maltose Falcons Homebrewing Society every January, to honor their fallen compadre and creative brewer extraordinaire Doug King.  The competition is open to homebrewers from all over the country, and focuses largely on lagers and specialty beers (including an “Imperial Anything” Category).

This year, we’re proud to announce that the winner of the competition will get to brew a big batch of their beer right here at Eagle Rock Brewery!  It will be interesting to see how creative the competition gets this year, and also challenging to re-create one of those specialized, small recipes on a large scale.

My dad and I have a few medals from past years of this competition, so it’s really exciting to be able to give back to this event, and to the cause for creative brewing.

Good luck to everyone, and we look forward to sharing the results…Cheers!

About the Public Hearing

Lately lots of folks have been asking about our public hearing, and if we need people to show up for support.  First of all, I just want to say thank you to those folks for their interest and encouragement.  And second, I’d like to say…yes!  Anyone can show up (since it’s open to the public), and we would LOVE to see some familiar, friendly faces there.

If you are so inclined (and happen to be free on a Thursday afternoon), here’s the details on where & when:

Los Angeles City Hall
200 North Spring Street, Room 1020
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(Enter from Main Street)

Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm.

If you do plan to attend, be sure to bring an ID (you have to go through a security check to get into City Hall), and probably a good book (it can get pretty boring in there).  Also, once you are in the hearing room if you’d like to give a statement, you’ll be asked to give your name and address (both written & verbally) before you say your thing.

I went to observe some similar hearings earlier this week, to have a better idea of how to prepare, and they’re really not that bad.  The atmosphere is definitely “official”, but its not intimidating.  The Zoning Administrator basically controls the flow of the meeting, and is constantly asking questions and gathering information.  Most hearings last around 30 minutes, but it all depends on the complexity of the case and the amount of public interaction.  Hopefully our hearing will go pretty quickly, and (more importantly) there will be a decision at the end.

Maybe we’ll see you there, but if you can’t make it, try to send some good vibes our way!

More Equipment (pt.2)

It took longer than expected, but yesterday we finally received some more deliveries of our new equipment!  Our bottling line, labeling machine, flowmeters, glycol chiller, and a big drum of glycol all arrived throughout the day on three different trucks.  It’s pretty exciting to see the shiny new equipment, and it somehow makes everything feel more real.  I can’t wait to actually get some beer moving through this stuff!!!

 

Just like unwrapping a giant Christmas present!

Just like unwrapping a giant Christmas present!

Ooo...Just what I wanted...a 6-head manual bottling line!  Thanks Santa!

Ooo...Just what I wanted...a 6-head manual bottling line! Thanks Santa!

flowmeters

Hooray for flowmeters!  These will help us measure the volume of liquids as we’re moving large amounts of water, wort and beer around the brewery.  Obviously very important for consistency in brewing, but also pretty important for Uncle Sam.  The tax man always wants to know exactly how much finished beer is being sold, and even being moved around the brewery from tank to tank.  These two look like a sturdy, trusty pair though – I’m sure they’ll do a great job.

 

 

labeller_01Our manual labeling machine.  Looks pretty basic, but also pretty cool.  A bottle lays horizontally across the rollers in the front and the roll of label-stickers sits on the rollers in the back.  Crank the handle and the label rolls smoothly onto the bottle.  Grab a new bottle and repeat (about 100,000 times).  Yep, we know…it’s a LOT of manual labor…but isn’t that the beauty of making a hand-crafted, artisanal product?  The fact that you get to participate in and enjoy every part of the process?  And doesn’t that ultimately result in a better finished product?  Yeah, we think so too!

 

chiller_01Our beautifully shiny, new glycol chiller unit.  This one is 5HP and should easily cool all of our tanks while still having enough cooling capacity for us to expand and add more tanks in the future.  This thing works by cooling down a tank full of glycol to a very low temperature, and then pumping that glycol to stainless steel pipes that run along the outer jacket of the fermenters and conditioning tanks.  Any heat in the beer inside those tanks is transferred to the cold glycol running through those pipes.  That warm glycol is then pumped back to this unit to be cooled down, and eventually sent on the same journey again.

chiller_02Here’s the control panel for the chiller unit.  To the right of the unit (in the background) is the 55-gallon drum of glycol, which is basically like a food-grade “antifreeze” (or a liquid with a lower freezing point than both beer & water).  The two pipes sticking out on the front left of the unit are where the glycol will ultimately flow into and out of the internal tank.

This guy will definitely keep our fermentations cool and our yeast happy!

 

We now have almost everything we need for a fully operational brewery.  In a few more weeks we’ll probably be receiving our heat exchanger, bottling tank, hop-back, grist case, mill, auger, and a handful of other odd & ends.  Now, if we can just get the city to move a little faster with our permits……