Growlers At Gas Stations – Some States Miss A Valuable Revenue Stream Based On Antiquated and Avoidable Worries

The Craft Beer Exchange happens to be one of the best kept non-secrets that Sunoco patrons in New York and South Carolina benefit from.  Sunoco’s foray into the world of craft beer through the Craft Beer Exchange isn’t just a brilliant marketing ploy.  The Craft Beer Exchange increases the sales of taxable product throughout the Empire and Palmetto states generating additional revenue for the treasury’s coffers.

            But some states still maintain restrictive “original packaging” and “refilling” laws that limit sale opportunities based on actions our bootlegging ancestors took to increase supply when demand was overwhelming.  We’ve all heard the prohibition stories of cutting beer and liquor with poisonous additives or plain tap water. These examples are legion – there’s even that early Simpsons episode where Bart’s French host-family cuts their wine with antifreeze (Episode #11 – “The Crepes of Wrath” – actually a reference to the 1985 diethylene glycol scandal). 

            Today, the industry and sale of alcohol is different, dramatically improved from the early 20th Century, and sufficient controls exist at the state and federal level to ensure that products aren’t diluted.  But state governments are still maintaining laws that prohibit filling and refilling growlers at licensed retail establishments.

            For example, Illinois defines an “Original package” as:

Sec. 1-3.06. “Original package” means any bottle, flask, jug, can, cask, barrel, keg, hogshead or other receptacle or container, whatsoever, used, corked or capped, sealed and labeled by the manufacturer of alcoholic liquor, to contain and to convey any alcoholic liquor.

            Illinois has a restriction about filling packages that restricts the entities that can fill packages:

Sec. 6-22. No person except a manufacturer or distributor, or importing distributor, shall fill or refill, in whole or in part, any original package of alcoholic liquor with the same or any other kind or quality of alcoholic liquor, and it shall be unlawful for any person to have in his possession for sale at retail any bottles, casks or other containers containing alcoholic liquor, except in original packages.

            These laws serve the purpose of making sure that contaminated or diluted product isn’t sold at retail.  But there are exceptions to the rules about sales and take-home products that already address how to deal with opened original packages and there are rules and regulations addressing dilution and contamination.   Any opened package has the potential for dilution or contamination and states can address how to handle opened original packages and contamination without restricting refilling growlers.

            For example – you can take home a bottle of wine that you’ve purchased at a restaurant but haven’t finished: 

Sec. 6-33. Sealing and removal of open wine bottles from a restaurant. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a restaurant licensed to sell alcoholic liquor in this State may permit a patron to remove one unsealed and partially consumed bottle of wine for off-premise consumption provided that the patron has purchased a meal and consumed a portion of the bottle of wine with the meal on the restaurant premises…

            The administrative code for Illinois’ Liquor Control Commission addresses refilling and dilution:

Section 100.290  Refilling

 No retail licensee shall offer for sale, or possess on the licensed premises:

a)         Any original package of alcoholic liquor which contains any kind or quality of alcoholic liquor other than that which has been sealed and labeled by the manufacturer or nonresident dealer.

b)         Any original package of alcoholic liquor to which there has been added any water or other substance.

(EDITORIAL NOTE:  This regulation used to have a provision “c” that read “Any bottles, casks, or other containers containing alcoholic liquor which contain any deleterious, contaminated, filthy, putrid substance or insects.”

            Setting aside the obvious benefit to the beer industry for product placement and greater availability, if you have laws in place that address dilution and contamination, and you expect your licensees to follow the laws, there’s simply no reason to prohibit retailers from fill growlers and creating an additional revenue source for a struggling state