Baltimore bars will likely get permission to sell growlers

Baltimore beer drinkers, rejoice. Soon you will likely be able to hoist freshly poured growlers of your favorite brew at locations throughout the city.

The Maryland General Assembly is poised to approve a measure this week that would make Baltimore the first jurisdiction in the state where refillable containers of draft beer will be widely available. Versions of the measure has passed both the House and Senate, which are in the process of working out minor differences. The law would take effect in July.

"I think one of the lucky things in the city is that we have so many great restaurants, but growlers will attract many people from around the state. This will be a big boost for the beer aficionados to dine in the city," said state Sen. William C. Ferguson IV, a Democrat who represents Baltimore's waterfront and is the measure's sponsor.

Statewide restrictions have limited the sale of growlers to brew pubs that make their own beer on the premises and sell food, excluding bars and most restaurants. But the 2-liter containers, characteristically made of brown glass, have gained in popularity in recent years, and governments around the country are adjusting their laws to permit them.

A second bill, for Howard County restaurants, has passed the House and is awaiting Senate action. That legislation would also permit the sale of smaller refillable containers of wine.

"This is good for local and regional craft beers," said the city's liquor board commissioner, Stephan Fogleman. He said he's looking forward to filling his growler with one of his local favorites — Heavy Seas Loose Cannon.

The bill originally restricted growlers to restaurants, but it was changed to include any liquor license holder — with the exception of clubs.

Establishments that already sell package goods, such as a six-pack to go, can apply for a $50 annual license to sell growlers. Businesses without carryout licenses will also be able to sell growlers but will have to pay $500 for a license.

Ferguson said the distinction was created because some establishments felt that refillable containers are an extension of presealed items to go, such as bottles of wine.

He said growlers will have to be sealable, and the bar or restaurant will have to brand growlers with stickers identifying where they were filled, in addition to other labeling provisions. Ferguson said he expects the legislation will likely be a blueprint for other local governments.

Fogleman said that when he testified in Annapolis, many legislators seemed interested in expanding the law. "I believe this will expand statewide next year," he said.

"This will create revenue, it will create revenue for license holders and make customers happy, too," Fogleman said. "It's no-brainer legislation."

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