Best Practices for Refilling Growlers

With the dropping of the ball on 2013, new laws went into effect throughout the state of California. One of those laws was the expansion of the legal use of growlers in the sale of beer. Prior to the passing of Assembly Bill 647, retailers were not permitted to re-fill growlers that purchased from another brewery or retailer or, more specifically, that previously contained a beer other than the one the consumer sought to re-fill.
First off, what is a growler? It is a type of bottle that breweries sell beer to go in. Typically, they are containers that are glass or stainless-steel and hold at least 750 ml of brew.
Second, why were they not allowed to re-fill? Well, according to (then) California law, breweries used to only be able to fill beer in growlers that they provided containing a label indicating the growlers specified contents. This meant, separate growlers from other breweries and for separate beers. This also meant no universal growlers. As a result, beer drinkers often ended up with dozens of growlers taking up space at their homes.
Now, the law permits such universal growlers allowing beer fans reuse growler containers at any location. There are still handling, labeling and size rules, of course. And locations can always refuse to fill a competitor-branded growler with their unique brew. However, refilling of growlers is a great way for consumers to sample beers from different breweries in an affordable way and offers an environmentally favorable method of doing so.
That being stated, there is always a gray area between the law and best practices. Luckily, the California Craft Brewery Association has identified some best practices to ensure that craft brewers stay within the lines. For craft brewers, maintaining the quality of the beer up to point-of-consumption is, above all else, the most important factor when filling any kind of packaging including growlers.

  • Never refill a used growler if there is any doubt about the sanitation and cleanliness of the container! You are never obligated to refill a used growler. This is a choice that is up to each brewery.
  • Any and all information, logos or references to any brewery that previously filled the container should be obscured in a manner that is not readily removable. Placing the container in a paper bag or wrapping it with paper would not meet these criteria.
  • To obscure prior label information from a previous brewery, the CCBA recommends a 3″ opaque black stretch wrap. This is easy to apply and has a fairly good appearance. It is a much a better alternative to duct tape.
  • Although not required, the label should include the filling date for quality purposes.
  • Brewers should refuse to fill plastic or paper containers of any kind. These materials cannot be  cleaned properly and are likely to harbor bacteria.
  • “Handling instructions” should be included on your container.
  • You should not obliterate or permanently remove a previous breweries logo or brand name or  otherwise deface a growler from another brewery. If filling a branded growler is problematic, then make sure you let your consumers know right off the bat. For example, Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, one of the most famous beer manufacturers in the world, has decided only to accept its own growlers for refills.
  • Do not refill a container size that you do not have label approval for. This is a violation.
  • Using a neck hanger as an affixed label. It allows for best appearance, it  is versatile for checking off or writing in the brand name, container size and alcohol content and
  • holds up well in moist conditions.
  • Every brewery should have a policy for refilling growlers. This should be made easily available  to the consumer. It is ultimately in the best interest of the consumer to only refill growlers  under specific pre-determined conditions.