Mass Thoughts on Tap

Dissecting Mass. Growler Laws

With recent “changes” in the state’s growler laws, now’s as good of a time as any to take a look into just what the state says brewers and consumers can and can’t do when it comes to growler fills.

With recent “changes” in the state’s growler laws, now’s as good of a time as any to take a look into just what the state says brewers and consumers can and can’t do when it comes to growler fills. 

The first thing to note is that the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) didn’t actually change any laws after releasing an advisory Wednesday. The advisory explains brewers may fill unlabeled growlers brought in by consumers, though they aren’t required to.

What’s interesting is the law never prevented brewers from doing this before, this is just informing brewers and consumers this is allowed. Many may wonder why the ABCC chose to release this when they did or why there was little to no communication between state officials and brewers, but that’s for another day.

Back to the legal stuff…

The state doesn’t actually have any growler laws on the books, but rather defers to national guidelines set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). These guidelines define the two types of growlers as well as some required labeling.

According to the TTB, a growler may be a bottle or a large glass. “A growler is a bottle when the brewer fills the container in advance of sale. The brewer may fill the growler prior to removal, on the brewery premises, or after tax determination on the brewpub premises.” These are typically kept in a grab-and-go fridge or similar situations to make the process quicker. Bottle growlers are required to be labeled with:

  • Brewery name
  • Place of production
  • Net contents
  • Government warning

A large glass is where things start to get confusing. “A growler is a large glass when a consumer uses the container to make a purchase and the brewer then fills the container. Consumers may furnish their own growler or may purchase it from the brewer.” Now, despite being called a large glass, the container may be made of glass, aluminum, plastic or any other material.

When it comes to labels, whether the brewer sells the empty container or the container is brought by the consumer, there is no required labeling by the TTB.

“When the brewer fills a growler at the tap at the brewpub, and not in advance of sale, we consider the growler as a large glass sold at retail. These growlers are not subject to Federal labeling requirements. Some States consider this bottling activity and regulate accordingly.”

So far, Massachusetts hasn’t set any standards except that the container be devoid of all labeling if furnished by the consumer.

The TTB actually considers a large glass growler to be “a glass sold at retail.” This means the federal government views a 64oz growler the same as a 16oz pint glass you drink at the taproom. This opens the door further to if growlers can legally be consumed onsite.

Without much guidance from the state, things can clearly get very mucky very quickly for brewers and consumers alike. Without straightforward legislation explaining the do’s and don’t’s, it can be tough to know what’s right and wrong.

On the one hand, most breweries have established their own policies based on their own understanding of state and federal law. However, these policies can differ and leave consumers a little confused. On the other hand, brewers themselves may not fully understand what the law allows and doesn’t, and may not actually be taking full advantage of sales.

It’s clear reform is needed, though it is MUCH easier said than done.


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