Baltimore County seeks to satisfy a growing taste for growlers

State lawmakers from Baltimore County hope to increase the availability of growlers, the refillable jugs that have become popular among craft beer enthusiasts.

Sales of growlers have expanded elsewhere in Maryland in recent years, and county lawmakers say they want to keep up with the trend. Legislators have proposed a bill that would create growler permits for county businesses so people could take home beer from the tap. The legislation would allow liquor stores, restaurants and bars to apply for the permits.

J.T. Smith, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, said growlers are great for people interested in trying craft beers, some of which may only be available on tap.

"Growlers act as vessels to allow those enthusiasts a little bit greater access to be able to enjoy, sample and taste craft beer," Smith said.

"People are really interested in trying these different craft beers," said Jack Milani of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association. "I think it'll be good for sales, but more importantly, I think it'll be good for people who want to try some other products but don't want to buy a whole case of it."

In 2012, Howard County and Baltimore City were the first jurisdictions in the state to make growlers more widely available. For years before that, state law had limited growler sales to brew pubs. In 2013, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County approved measures to allow more businesses to sell via growlers.

Other jurisdictions have been looking to jump on the bandwagon, said Mike Mohler, administrator of the Baltimore County liquor board. Lawmakers from Carroll and Calvert counties are seeking similar bills this year.

"The craft beer category is just exploding, and people don't necessarily want to buy cases or six-packs to try a beer," Mohler said.

Local lawmakers don't want Baltimore County to fall "behind the times," said Del. John Olszewski Jr., a Democrat who chairs the county's House delegation and is a sponsor of the bill. A hearing on the measure is scheduled for Feb. 17 in Annapolis.

"To the extent that it encourages additional business, I think it's good for the county," Olszewski said.

Permits would be available to establishments that already hold liquor licenses for stores, restaurants and bars. They would cost $50 a year for establishments that are allowed to sell beverages for carryout, and $500 a year for those that may only sell for consumption on the premises.

Allowing the sales will help local brewers, said Hugh Sisson, founder of the Heavy Seas brewery, which is based in Halethorpe.

"I'm pretty much in favor of anything that makes it easier for people to buy locally produced products," he said."This is for the retailers, not for the suppliers, although we would certainly benefit."

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