Visitors to local breweries these days often have two options: purchase beer that’s already been bottled, or get a growler, a glass vessel with a screw cap, filled from a tap.
Repeat customers can bring their growlers back to the brewery over and over and avoid the deposit fee, but there’s a catch. Current Massachusetts law prohibits breweries from filling growlers not their own. You can’t go to Night Shift Brewing in Everett and fill a growler you purchased at Harpoon.
Marlo Samproni of Braintree describes herself as a craft beer fanatic, visiting breweries two or three times a month. She owns 17 growlers. “I hate having to always purchase new growlers when I visit a new brewery,” she says.
Steven Howitt, a state representative from Seekonk, has heard from others like Samproni and is trying to do something about it. Howitt recently introduced an amendment to the state budget that would allow breweries in the state to fill vessels from elsewhere. Howitt, who says he’s not much of a drinker himself, is the same legislator who introduced the law allowing liquor stores to open at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
Howitt doesn’t own a growler, but says the current growler law makes little sense to him. “It’s like if you bought a Chevrolet, and Chevy said you can only get it serviced at a Chevrolet dealership,” he says. “I see it as a tourism issue. If I lived down the Cape and wanted to go to the Berkshires, I’d have to buy a growler at each microbrewery, versus using the one I already paid for. Unless you’re a collector of growlers, it’s an expense.”
Lee Cooper, owner of Hopsters, a brew-on-premise facility and bar in Newton, says the proposed law could open up a new kind of business. In other states, there are stores where consumers can fill growlers of varying origins with beers from a variety of breweries. Cooper has signed a lease on space in the new Boston Public Market, adjacent to Haymarket Station, and is opening a bottle shop there that will sell only Massachusetts beer. He says he would have loved to install a growler-filling machine as well. “You go to a market, you get a steak, and then you get a growler that’s filled in front of you,” says Cooper. “It’s an emotional pitch.”
Not everyone wants the law changed. Several small brewers declined comment for this story, as did Rob Martin, president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. Through a spokesperson, Harpoon Brewery says the potential new law could be “a positive development for beer lovers,” but pointed to pricing issues filling growlers of various sizes, and possible label confusion if the name on the growler does not match the beer inside.
Any change to the growler law is currently on hold. Howitt introduced his amendment into the House budget in May, but the Senate’s version of the budget did not include any growler language. The proposal is now subject to negotiation in conference committee before the final budget is shipped to Governor Charlie Baker sometime this month.