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States are always reviewing and updating their alcohol laws and regulations. Michigan, where I reside, has recently allowed bars, restaurants and taverns to fill growlers, a practice that had been restricted to brewers previously. North Carolina is also considering similar legislation (LINK) with the caveat of reviewing sanitation practices beforehand. This secondary issue has seen much discussion in this state as well.

Let’s face it: many watering holes do NOT practice standard sanitation techniques, including regular cleaning of draft lines. Most advocates recommend cleaning lines every two weeks as a standard and there are many companies which offer to perform the service. For this reason, some are suggesting that bars and restaurants not be allowed to sell growlers, in case they end up pouring substandard beer for a customer.

Many brewery and brewpub owners and employees against this legislation had very strong feeling and expressed them in detail.  The biggest issue for those against was product quality: quality in draft beer systems, quality in draft beer system maintenance and quality of cleaning the growler prior to refill.  Many felt that the beer would not be represented properly with the draft dispense and the sanitation issues that exist at some bars/restaurants.
– Michigan Beer Guide, Legislative Report, Nov/Dec 2012

Of course, this also means that patrons will have to come to breweries ONLY to get their growlers filled, so this argument is somewhat prejudiced from the start. In addition, it ignores several other market realities:

– If a bar has poor or dirty draft lines, they’re already serving substandard beer by the glass.
– I can find six packs regularly in convenience stores, that are well over a year old, sitting warm on shelves in direct light, so they’re selling substandard beer to customers.

So, is it really about quality control?

Perhaps…but we might argue that the pros far outweigh the cons in this case. Let’s face it, most growler fills are likely to be craft beer, rather than Macro Lite, so they’ll largely come from tap houses that regularly serve quality beer. Many (most?) of the bars serving quality beers DO utilize proper sanitation practices, so it seems unfair to punish them for the sins of a few who may not. Also, allowing bars and pubs to fill growlers extends a breweries products to patrons beyond their local area. Most patrons also realize that fresher beer is better. I’d much rather have a relatively fresh keg serving of craft beer than an aforementioned mistreated six pack as my “introduction” to a new consumer.

Rather than additional legislation calling for a new bureaucracy to “regulate” the cleaning of draft lines – which may or may not be regularly enforced – wouldn’t it make sense for the brewers to come together, under the Michigan Beer Guild or other organization, to self-fund a “certification program” and supply a dated sticker or certificate to bars and taverns for display?

They could charge a small fee and ask for proof of cleaning practices – which could be a simple as cleaning receipts going back 3-6 months showing regular cleanings. Each year, the certification could be renewed with new proof provided. In fact, the cleaning companies may be willing to support this program as well in an effort to reach more customers! Further, use websites, brewery staff and social media to educate consumers to seek out the “Growler Certification” in bars and restaurant they patronize for the best quality product.

The craft brewing world has been built largely without the “assistance” of government officials and by educating consumers one-by-one. Why should the solution to this issue be any different?