Gentlemen and ladies, start your growlers.
A new state law means Harford County beer lovers can fill up their own containers from the tap at local retail establishments starting Oct. 1, and liquor license holders around the county are starting to receive permission to dispense beer in take-home containers, commonly called growlers.
The Harford County Liquor Control Board unanimously approved permits Wednesday for refillable beer containers for Wine World in Abingdon, Pool N' Pints in Aberdeen, Friendship Wine & Liquor in Abingdon and DuClaw Brewing Company in Bel Air South.
As microbreweries blossom around Maryland, the growler jugs have been popular with residents who like craft beers and enjoy being able to take home drinks that may be unavailable in package form. Several counties in Maryland already permit growlers, but Harford was not among them.
Mike Scheuerman, of Friendship Wine & Liquor, said refillable growlers will enable them expand their craft beer selection and appeal to new customers.
"The biggest surprise is how many people actually have growlers already," Scheuerman said following Wednesday's liquor board meeting.
His business has already started offering samples, as permitted by law, from dispensers at a much-promoted "growler station" at the back of the store, he said.
The nine beers offered as samples at Friendship include regional craft brews like Burley Oak from the Eastern Shore, Jailbreak from Laurel and Flying Dog from Frederick.
"It's been a real big attraction. People are excited about it," Scheuerman said. "It's been a pretty healthy crowd around that at peak times."
He told the liquor board his business has 12 dispensers, although only nine are active. When the law goes into effect, Friendship will also sell its own growlers, he said.
Judith Powell, administrator for the liquor board, said Harford is among the counties added to the growler law under legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year.
The refillable containers will be permitted for Class A-1 retail, Class D tavern and Class A-1 restaurant licenses, the latter with off-sale beer and wine or beer, wine and liquor, Powell explained. Any of those license holders that want to refill growlers will still need to obtain the separate permit from the liquor board. Applications are on the liquor board's website.
The permits allow customers to bring in growlers from any retailer or company, but the container must be between 32 and 128 ounces, be sealable, have an identifying mark of the seller, carry a federal health warning statement required for alcohol containers, display instructions for cleaning the container and have a label stating that the consumer is responsible for cleaning it and consuming the contents within 48 hours.
Businesses pay $50 for the annual permit to dispense to growlers. The beer may be dispensed between 8 a.m. and midnight.
Powell said DuClaw had previously been able to sell beer in growlers under a state manufacturing license it received when it opened its microbrewery and restaurant at Bel Air South years ago. After the microbrewery moved out, DuClaw continued to sell its craft brews in growlers from the restaurant, a situation Powell said was confusing and has since been clarified by the passage of the new law.
Ashley Potts, of Abingdon, was one of the customers who stopped by Friendship's growler station Wednesday evening to get some samples.
She said she has her own growler and is excited about getting beer on tap, as it was "something different" for the area.
Scheuerman said he was originally "intrigued" by the growler idea when he heard of it in national magazines.
"Once I started to investigate, I came to realize how many craft beers there are that don't come in package form," he noted.
He said he is starting out with 32-ounce and 64-ounce growlers and also hopes to attract growler novices.
"We are trying to build customers. A lot of people don't even know what a growler is," Scheuerman said.