Beer-lovers’ bill heads to committee

Proposal would allow liquor stores to sell growlers
March 18, 2013
Liquor stores in Delaware could sell draught beer in growlers, if a new bill passes the General Assembly. SOURCE FILE

Fans of craft beer could purchase more varieties of seasonal and limited edition brews, under a House proposal.

Flanked by liquor store and Delaware craft brewery owners at Peco’s Liquor Store in Wilmington, Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South, introduced a bill to allow Delaware liquor stores to fill and sell growlers of draught beer.

“Craft beer-drinkers are a different breed. They enjoy the taste of these small batch beers and love the opportunity to try different, fresh varieties,” Heffernan said.

A growler is a glass or ceramic jug filled with draught beer, typically sold in a half-gallon size. Under Delaware law, only breweries or brewpubs can sell growlers.

By allowing liquor stores to sell growlers, Heffernan said, Delaware’s small craft breweries would be able to expand their market, and liquor stores would be able to compete with stores in neighboring states.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey already allow liquor stores to sell growlers; Maryland’s law differs by county.

“Right now, you can drive over the Pennsylvania state line and fill up a growler of Dogfish Head at Whole Foods in Glen Mills, but in Delaware, you have to drive to Milton or Rehoboth Beach to get a growler of the same beer,” Heffernan said.

Brett McCrea, co-founder of 16 Mile Brewing in Georgetown, said Delaware has gained international recognition as a premier craft brewing state. “This legislation continues to help craft breweries expand and grow their business and enhance the reach of all of those breweries to surrounding states. The bill also comprehensively impacts all levels of Delaware’s thriving beer industry,” McCrea said.

According to a March 7 press release from the House Majority Caucus, the number of breweries operating in the U.S. mushroomed from about 300 in 1990 to more than 2,100 as of June 2012, the majority of which are defined as craft breweries.

The Delaware Brewers Guild estimates craft brewers in the state produced about 250,000 barrels of beer last year.

Under House Bill 31, liquor stores could purchase a growler filler permit for $150 every two years, allowing them to fill, cap and sell growlers from any of Delaware’s nine breweries.

Peco’s Liquor Store owner Ed Mulvihill said the niche market for fresh craft beer has accelerated in the last 10 years.  “We’ve been getting requests regularly for growlers, and when those customers find out we can’t sell them, they just go across the state line,” he said.

Mulvihill said selling growlers allows liquor stores to keep customers in Delaware.

He also said craft breweries could save money on bottling and labeling by selling varieties that are only available as a draught.  Growlers also cut down on waste because customers reuse them, Mulvihill said.

Greenville’s Twin Lakes Brewing sells growlers at its Kennett Pike Brewery.  Co-founder and chief executive officer Samuel Hobbs said the bill would open new doors to the company.  “We support it 100 percent. We’re hoping that this will translate into more brand awareness for all craft breweries in Delaware,” Hobbs said.

He also said the bill could lead to an increased volume of sales over time, which will help produce more jobs at breweries, distributors and liquor stores in the state.

According to the Brewers Association, craft brewers and brewpubs provide more than 100,000 jobs in the United States.

“This is a change that just makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons,” said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, the bill lead sponsor in the Senate. “Our craft breweries are a growing industry and often set the standard for the rest of the industry, so we should do what we reasonably can to support our craft brewing community, both the brewers and the beer lovers who support them.”

HB 31 was introduced in the House March 7, and was the subject of a hearing in the House Economic Development, Banking, Insurance and Commerce Committee March 13.