Massachusetts Officials Announce Major Changes To State Beer Laws

craft beer mass growler freedom

State officials will now allow filling of unlabeled growlers.

For Massachusetts craft beer lovers with a stockpile of growlers, relief may be on the way after an advisory by the state’s alcohol control board.

The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission announced Wednesday that breweries will now be allowed to refill outside growlers, not just those sold by the brewery.

There are, however, some stipulations among the new ruling:

  1. The growler must be entirely blank, devoid of any labeling of another brewery;
  2. The growler must be empty of all alcoholic beverages; and
  3. The growler must be filled from a tap by a Farmer-Brewery or Pub-Brewery licensed by the state.

These developments come after over two years of legislative discussions over how to change growler laws across the state. Previous legislation proposed filling of growlers from other breweries, though it didn’t pass through committee.

One major concern by brewers over this proposal was loss of brand control.

An example given goes like this: Say somebody has a growler with Brewery A’s label on it and gets it filled at Brewery B. The beer from Brewery B just happens to have gotten infected, so it doesn’t taste right. This person brought the growler to a bottle share and everyone now associates that beer with Brewery A because of the label and they all begin to bash the brewer on social media.

This is just one example of how brewers could lose control over their image and is a main reason this proposal never got much support from the brewing community.

Prior to the changes announced Wednesday, brewers grappled with what some referred to as “archaic” growler laws by their own means.

As anyone who’s visited a Bay State brewery would know, breweries were only allowed to fill their own branded growler, usually sold in a few select sizes directly out of the taproom. This restriction caused issue for consumers, since they were required to purchase a new growler (by paying deposit) and then pay to fill it and could only ever get it refilled at that particular brewery. This usually resulted in a large collection of growlers that may have only ever been filled once.

Some brewers have moved to crowler systems as an alternative, such as Notch Brewing in Salem, Start Line Brewing in Hopkinton, Turtle Swamp Brewing in Jamaica Plain and many others. On the other hand, Everett’s Night Shift Brewing announced in late 2016 they would discontinue all growler sales in order to assure top quality of their brews.

Bog Iron Brewing in Norton took a different approach with a pilot program focused on recycling growlers from other breweries. During this program, if you brought in a growler from another brewery, Bog Iron would take it in exchange for one of their own growlers and waive the bottle deposit. This pilot took off like wildfire and hundreds of growlers rolled in.

Time will really tell how this will effect the state’s craft beer scene. It’s up to the brewery if they choose to fill unlabeled growlers, if they want to stick with their own branded growlers or crowlers, or if they want to scrap the process completely and only offer cans or bottles to-go.

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Southeastern Mass. native. I graduated the University of Massachusetts -Dartmouth with a BA in Crime & Justice Studies but have worked as a reporter and freelance writer for the past 3+ years. Writing about beer is almost as enjoyable as drinking it at a ball game. Check out more of my work on beardandbrewed.com.

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