Bottleshop Growlers - a New Way to Discover Washington Beer
August 9, 2011 - 8:30 AM--by Kendall Jones, Washington Beer Blog--
Back in February we told you about a proposed new law allowing bottleshops to fill growlers (read it). Well, Senate Bill 5711 passed and became law. As of July 20th your local bottleshop can fill growlers for you if they so choose. Some bottleshops we’ve talked with already have plans to sell growlers. Others have yet to decide.
There are two types of bottleshops to consider. Only one is impacted by the new law.
First, some places that you might think of as bottleshops actually hold tavern licenses. The tavern license allows these establishments to sell beer for on-premise consumption, draft or bottles, and then a special endorsement to the license allows them to sell beer to go. As I understand the law, it is because they hold this type of license that places like Seattle Beer Authority, Malt and Vine, and Bottleworks allow you to enjoy a glass of beer as you browse the shelves. I’m not sure who does and does not sell growlers, but legally they all could.
Other bottleshops hold a different kind of liquor license: a Beer and/or Wine Specialty Shop license. For example, 99 Bottles, the Beer Junction, and Full Throttle Bottles. The law now allows this kind of bottleshop to sell growlers to go. They still cannot sell beer for on-premise consumption.
In short, we're talking about two different business models. They're both good, just different. The law sees one as a place where people go to drink that just happens to sell beer to go. The other is viewed as a shop selling beer and wine.
Perhaps the most significant difference is the ability for parents to bring their kids in the store. Minors are not allowed into shops licensed as taverns. For bottleshops licensed as beer and/or wine specialty shops this was quite an important distinction. Although they wanted to sell growlers to go, they also wanted to continue allowing parents to bring the kids shopping. I've also talked to at least one bottleshop owner who specifically said that they purposely did not want to deal with the complexities and potential headaches involved with serving alcohol to consumers. It changes a lot of things, including the type of insurance a shop must carry.
A Win-Win Situation
This new law is good news for Washington’s many breweries that do not package beer in bottles or cans. It seems unlikely that a bottleshop owner would want to sell growlers of a beer that is available in bottles. More likely, the stuff you’ll find on tap at bottleshops is the stuff that never makes it into bottles.
For a brewery that does not bottle its beer the new law creates an opportunity to introduce its product to the bottleshop crowd. What do I mean by bottleshop crowd? There are people amongst us who do most of their craft beer drinking at home. I know it seems strange to those of us with reserved seats at the local pub, but some people drink out of their fridge and only rarely make it out to Seattle’s better beer bars. These people rely on their local beer retailer to introduce them to new and different beers. This law gives the retailers more flexibility and allows them to better serve their customers.
So Who's Filling Growlers Now?
Now that the law has been changed, it’s up to each particular shop to decide if they want to get involved in the business of filling growlers. It adds certain complexities to the business: maintaining draft systems, ordering and storing kegs, stocking empty growlers, and so on. If you want your local bottleshop to offer this service, let them know.
We’ve talked to a few bottleshop owners about their plans. Here’s what we know.
The Beer Junction in West Seattle will soon be moving to a new location a few blocks away. They will not install draft equipment at the existing location but will include it when they build-out the new location.
Down in Federal Way, 99 Bottles has big plans. We are not sure what they are, but we expect a press release soon. My hope (and expectation) is that Tiffany and Craig will knock this one out of the park. Federal Way is in dire need of good draft beer.
In Georgetown, Full Throttle Bottles is not in any hurry to start filling growlers. Erika Cowan, the ownerof Full Throttle has sound reasons why. “I did a poll on Facebook and everyone said that they'd rather go straight to the local breweries ,” says Erika. “Given that I have about ten breweries within five miles or so, it makes sense folks responded that way. I never say never, and I really listen to what my customers have to say. If they ask for it, I would certainly consider doing it.”
We hope other bottleshop owners will chime in here and leave comments and that readers will share what they know about which shops will and will not fill growlers now that the law allows.