A Primer on Relevant Pennsylvania Growler Fill Laws

Southern Tier Pumpking in Victory growlerA couple of months ago, I was with friends at Tired Hands Brewing, an excellent small brewery in Ardmore.  Because of its small size, Tired Hands does not yet distribute to stores, so its beer is essentially only available at the brewery.  After having lunch and enjoying a couple of beers, one of my friends attempted to fill his growler, purchased elsewhere, with one of the Tired Hands beers on tap.  His efforts were unsuccessful.  Tired Hands informed him that because his growler had a label from a different brewery, it could not, under Pennsylvania law, fill up his growler.

Everyone knows that Pennsylvania has a convoluted set of beer and liquor laws.  It’s no surprise that there are several laws pertaining specifically to growlers.  Different bars and breweries have their own policies relating to growler fills (some have no problem filling up growlers from other breweries, others do).  Here are the relevant rules I’ve found:

  • Selling growlers  – As stated in a recent advisory opinion, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board permits any licensed brewery to sell its malt or brewed beverages in any container or package of any volume to individuals for off-premises consumption.  47 P.S. § 4-440.  So long as the brewery has a license (home brewers are most likely not licensed), it can sell beers in growlers to go.  Selling beer for consumption on the premises requires a separate brewpub license.  Bars, of course, can also sell growlers.
  • Beer quantity – Technically, breweries selling beer for off-premises consumption must sell in quantities of no less than a case or original containers containing sixty-four ounces or more.  47 P.S. § 4-440.  With respect to the “maximum” amount of beer to be sold, manufacturers who do not sell beer for on-premises consumption are less restricted.  They do not appear to be specifically prohibited from selling more than three, four or five growler fills to a single person.  Meanwhile, retail dispensers who sell beer for consumption on the premises are limited to selling one hundred ninety-two ounces (three sixty-four ounce growlers) in a single sale to a person.  47 P.S. § 4-442.
  • Filling outside growlers – So, are breweries allowed or prohibited from filling growlers from other breweries or bars?  The answer, of course, depends on the premises filling the growler.  The provision pertaining to breweries refers to the requirement of selling beer in “original containers.”  The PLCB interprets “original containers” as a container supplied by the manufacturer of the product.  In other words, manufacturers who have no other pertinent licenses are not permitted by law to refill other growlers.
    Entities with other licenses, however, have more latitude.  For instance, breweries with restaurant or brewery pub licenses at their brewing location can fill growlers from outside brewers because the relevant provisions for retail licensees do not require “original containers.”  47 P.S. § 4-440; 40 Pa.Code § 3.92.  Retail licensees still have to ensure they do not misrepresent the beer sold in the container.  47 P.S. §4-493(6), (7).
    There is one interesting issue: unlabeled growlers.  The PLCB states that when presented with an unlabeled growler, the brewery can fill it up.
  • Transporting growlers in your car – You have filled up your growler.  Now it’s time to drive it home.  Of course, you now run into the issue of whether you can legally drive it in your car.  The top to your growler, either with the flip top or screw top, is not a sealed container, and Pennsylvania does not permit open containers in vehicles operated on the public highway.  75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3809.  It all depends on whether the local municipality or state police choose to enforce that law with respect to growlers.  The PLCB suggests you consult with the local municipality and state police.  Also, the law on transporting “open containers” does not apply if you’re in a limo, bus or taxi.

Regardless of the laws, it’s still probably bad form to bring a growler of an in-town brewery to another brewery to get filled.  I would rather bring a bar’s growler to a brewery if I don’t have that brewery’s specific growler.  But as a general rule, to abide by all the applicable laws and get your growler filled, do the following:

  1. Bring your growler to a place with a brewery pub license.
  2. If you’re going to a brewery that does not sell been on the premises, use that brewery’s growler or bring an unlabeled one.
  3. Put tape over your growler label.
  4. Don’t bring more than three full-size growlers to brewpubs.
  5. Take the bus or a taxi to bring it home.
  6. If you have to drive, check with the municipality about whether the police would enforce the open container law with respect to growlers.
  7. Take the back roads and avoid the police.
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