Pioneering the Vermont growler movement

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Ever since the early days of Vermont’s beer boom, beer lovers around the state have been passionate about their growlers. As local craft beer brewing became a full-blown craze, those 64-ounce jugs of deliciousness have become more popular with local drinkers as well as beer tourists, who come to Vermont specifically to get a taste of the many craft beers on offer. As the demand for growlers grows, so does the attention paid to the laws surrounding them, and a new law that changes the way they are distributed is currently making its way through the state legislature.

The Vermont Liquor Control Board has had growler regulations in place for many years, but a bill in the state senate right now expands some of those regulations and tightens others. The bill will allow restaurants (class three licensees) to join breweries and liquor and beer sales establishments (classes one and two) to have taps available for the purpose of filling growlers. Current regulations leave it to the brewer or store’s discretion as to whether or not they fill growler containers from other breweries; the new law requires growlers to be issued by the licensee where the beer is being purchased. It also expands the definition of a growler to include 32-ounce containers.

Magic Hat Brewing Company is one of the pioneers of the Vermont growler movement, and is well known for artistic designs on their containers. President Mark Hegedus is supportive of allowing restaurants and other eateries to join the growler party, but he is concerned about the container regulations. “This part [of the law] doesn’t seem to make sense,” he said. “Growlers are about sharing with friends, exploration … our team loves to see growlers from other breweries—it’s a celebration of all the people in the industry, of pushing boundaries and trying new things.”

Senator Joe Benning from Caledonia introduced the bill into the legislature in January of this year because he has a constituent who has an outside bar and wants to be able to fill and sell growlers. He said that he had only received words of support from constituents, but that the committee chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee recently indicated to him that they will likely not move on the bill. Benning assumes it is because of outside pressure.

Other than restaurant owners who supported the move to expand the types of venues that can fill growlers, Benning said, “nobody else in the industry contacted me about [the bill].” He said that even if there are changes, such as eliminating the section that requires growlers to be purchased on-site, there’s a distinct chance that the bill might not make it out of committee.

Hegedus of Magic Hat noted that despite his hesitation to support parts of this particular bill, legislation was helpful to the craft beer industry in its early days, allowing home brewing and allowing small batches of beer to be made in non-traditional venues. He said, “Legislation has allowed a huge industry that would not have happened without work from local representatives and state assemblies.”