When a Growler Isn’t a Growler

Screw-top style growler

Gasket-top style growler

Earlier this year I expressed my delight over the proliferation of growlers, the refillable half gallon glass jugs many breweries and brewpubs have begun to sell.  I won’t bore you with recapping the growler’s finer qualities – no, my point here is to consider an unlikely question: when is a growler not, in fact, a growler?

To be sure, it’s an understandably confusing question.  How can a glass jug that is filled with beer from a proprietor licensed to sell beer be difficult?  The answer – when lawyers and politicians get involved.  Because this is Washington, D.C., even the simplest matters are oftentimes unnecessarily complicated.  So it’s time to dust off the law degree in an attempt to answer this bit of nonsense.

Let’s start with the basics.  There are two types of growlers: screw-top and gasket-top.  I own one of each, and for ease of reference, I’ve include side-by-side pictures above.

Now, let’s complicate matters a bit more: DC Brau, the District’s first brewery in nearly half a century – which I wrote about in February – received permission from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) in late summer to fill growlers in the brewery’s tasting room.  I was interested so I visited their website, which stated, “If you are bringing your own growler to fill, we can only fill screw-top growlers.  Due to DC law, we can not [sic] fill flip-top growlers as they do not meet the regulations for a “sealed container.” (emphasis added)

An interesting requirement indeed, as this was precisely the opposite of what I was told the last time I visited Sweetwater Tavern, a local suburban Virginian restaurant offering growler fills.  On that occasion, I was told my screw-top growler – the one I had brought – could not be filled; they could only fill the larger, flip-top, gasket style.  The bartender then, of course, inquired as to whether I was interested in purchasing a flip-top, which they conveniently sold (I was not).  Why, I inquired, were they unable to fill my screw-top growler?  “We just can’t,” she tersely replied.

This earlier conversation clouded my thoughts while I surfed DC Brau’s website.  What did they mean by “sealed container?”  Why was the flip top, gasket style deemed impermissible by DC law?  A bit of research led me to a few interesting facts.  To begin, the DC City Council, the local legislature, does not define the phrase “sealed container” anywhere within DC Code Title 25, the law granting authority to the ABRA, the city’s liquor enforcement authority.  So, no direct law to answer my question; it was time to turn to indirect legal sources.

Here, the Washington City Paper provided a bit more granularity.  Tammy Tuck, one half of the Lagerheads and a contributor to the City Paper’s Young and Hungry Blog –  and a wonderful writer with whom I’ve exchanged several e-mails – wrote a piece describing DC Brau’s new permission to fill growlers.  Towards the post’s end, Tammy noted the ABRA gave the brewery permission “to sell growlers, as long as the bottles have a heat-activated seal and are consumed off-premises.”  The words heat-activated leapt off the screen.  Now I was getting somewhere.

Accordingly, one would conclude containers are considered “sealed” by the ABRA if they have heat-activated seals.  Clicking back to the ABRA webpage, I queried “heat activated” in DC Code Title 25; it produced no results.  A short e-mail later, I learned from Tammy that DC Brau’s attorneys had determined that they could satisfy the “sealed” requirement by using screw top growlers sealed with heated shrink wrap.  Only after sales had begun did ABRA approve this practical interpretation (exemplifying the old adage, “don’t ask, apologize”).

While this interpretation works for DC Brau, I’m still stuck with less-than-clear legal definitions for guidance on which growler to take when refilling.  So I’ll use my current tools: memory, Google, and trial-and-error.  Thankfully, most brew-pubs and breweries just don’t care and will fill your growler regardless of style.  Several of my local favorites – Mad Fox, Flying Dog, Port City, and even Gordon Biersch –could care less about screw or gasket.  But sometimes, as in the cases of DC Brau and Sweetwater Tavern, the Fun Police or a particularly surly bartendress will rain on your parade if you’re not absolutely prepared.

So what’s the best way to prepare?  Carry both growlers in a cooler in your minivan, just as an old colleague still does.  Because sometimes your growler just isn’t a growler and you’re sent home, hat in hand.  Carrying both ensures you’re always ready, regardless of circumstances or specifications.  The best case, of course, will have you heading home with a full gallon of your favorite brew, albeit in two slightly different containers.

Published in: on October 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,


  1. Nice bit of research here, counselor

  2. Yo THF!

    You’ve been nominated for a Liebster!


    • Thanks G-LO! It’s an honor to be nominated. Thanks for reading!

      • Always a pleasure THF!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: