For 111 days from March 26 until July 15 B.C. bars and restaurants were legally permitted to fill growlers of draft beer for customers to take away.
But few people knew, or were able to take advantage of it.
That’s because the temporary rule change by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch was designed to help restaurants, which were take-out only at the time, to be able to sell beer from kegs that were opened prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. The temporary permit was reversed in a July 13 policy update that extended the sale of packaged beer and wine from stores until Oct. 31.
“A lot of restaurants and brewery tasting rooms had surplus draft beer around, so they were allowed to use that to fill growlers,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “It wasn’t [advertised], because you don’t want to [advertise] something you will run out of.”
In the meantime, it stoked a small discussion in the industry as some customers liked it, said one rep from a local craft brewery. Some restaurants also abused the rule, which was supposed to be limited to a 1.9-litre growler or a 650ml bomber.
“There was examples of mason jars and other containers being used that were not laid out by the liquor regulation,” said Ken Beattie, executive director of the British Columbia Craft Brewers Guild.
Growler fills have now reverted back to only those establishments with a brewery manufacturing licence, which is the way breweries have always liked it, Beattie said.
“It’s been the lifeblood of new breweries to have growler sales, and tasting rooms,” Beattie said. “The guild of brewers advocated for it to protect the product, which is best fresh off the tap, the best beer you can have, and it drives traffic to ensure sales.”
In fact, for as popular as they are at many breweries, growlers are likely to be phased out at some breweries around B.C.
That’s because the reliance on growlers has decreased thanks to the advancement of mobile packaging companies which show up to can and bottle beer at small breweries, Beattie added. Having their own in-house packaging is a cost many brewers can’t afford. Other advancements – such as the “crowler,” a one-litre can – are also changing things by holding large amounts of beer, like a growler, but keeping it fresher for longer.
The reality is there aren’t a lot of requests for the right to serve growlers that the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association is hearing about, Tostenson said.
“It’s getting into their turf, it’s really the domain of the brewers and it’s not a fight that we’re [taking on],” Tostenson said.