What Is A “Wine Growler”? TTB Weighs In

You may not have heard much about the subject of “Growlers” in association with wine in the past. While beer lovers are far more commonly attracted to these types of containers and their purchase, it’s just not yet that common with wine. However, with a recent ruling by TTB, “Wine Growlers” will likely be a subject of conversation among wine lovers, wineries and wine retailers.

First, what is a “Growler? According to the TTB definition a Wine Growler “is any container that is designed to be securely covered and is intended to be filled (or refilled) with wine for purposes of off-premises consumption, as well as any similar container designed to facilitate the secure transportation of the wine for later consumption off of the premises.” In other words, imagine a consumer coming to your winery and rather than buying a few bottles of wine, they bring a three liter container, have it filled from a barrel of your tax-paid wine, and then take it home to enjoy.

Many years ago the concept of the “wine growler” was not uncommon. Consumers would often bring large containers to wineries or retailers, have them filled up with their favorite wine, which they would then bring home and use as their source of wine. Both before Prohibition and after its repeal, it was not uncommon for consumers living in wine country to obtain their supply of wine in this way. Today, however, this practice has been largely a relic of the past.

Now, in response to a few inquiries from wineries and retailers as to the legality under federal law of filling up wine growlers for consumers, TTB issued a ruling that this practice is in fact legal under certain specific circumstances. According to TTB, federal law allows the filling of growlers with wine under the following conditions for wineries or retailers:

1. Receive a permit from TTB to operate as a “taxpaid wine bottling house”
2. The Growler to be filled may be no larger in capacity than four liters
3. The Growler may be brought by the customer or purchased on-premise before filling
4. The filling of the Growler must be for the purpose of off-premise consumption.
5. The winery or retailer must keep specific records concerning tax paid wine, received, dispensed and removed from the premises.

Currently, only Washington (assuming Governor Inslee signs the bill today to allow growler refills by wineries only) and Oregon allow the sale of wine in growlers in one form or another. However, with this ruling, the attention it brings to the idea of selling wine in growlers and given the entrepreneurial times in which we live, we expect to see wineries and retailers in other states begin to explore the idea of selling wine in growlers.

It’s worth noting that while wineries are required to hold a “basic permit” with TTB and obtain Certificates of Label Approval (COLAs) for labels that they produce, retailers are not required to hold a TTB license. A retailer that applies to be a taxpaid bottling house would then be subject to TTB jurisdiction and record-keeping requirements. It appears that wineries or retailers that obtain the additional TTB permit would not need to obtain COLAs for growlers that are filled, at least as long as they are not pre-packaged for the consumers.

Here is a link to the recent TTB ruling on Wine Growlers: http://www.ttb.gov/rulings/2014-3.pdf

 

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10 Comments

  1. Angela Avila

    In this post it says that currently Oregon and Washington are the only states able to fill wine growlers but the federal law says you can? Can you confirm if it is now legal in South Dakota as this article is from 2014.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Rachel Bush - Marketing Coordinator

      Hi, Angela!

      Thanks for your question. We did some digging, and from what we’ve discovered, there aren’t container type restrictions that SD will act on. As long as a party has a valid license to make on-site sales for off-site consumption, then any available container will do. That is, SD will apply the same policy for beer growlers to wine growlers. Hope this is helpful!

      Reply
      • Angela Avila

        Would we need the federal bottling house permit or am I reading your response correctly that for SD all we need is a the correct offsale/onsale permit.
        Thanks!

        Reply
        • Rachel Bush - Marketing Coordinator

          Hi, Angela! Thanks for the question. From our research, all South Dakota requires is the proper “off-sale” permit. After you’ve received this, the state won’t be picky about which container the wine was sold in. Really, they’ll follow their rules for beer sales, so wine growlers are fine.

          Reply
  2. Ilene

    Does California permit the filling of Growlers? If so, who is allowed to refill a Growler? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Alex Koral - Product Compliance Manager

      Hi Ilene,

      Thanks for the question. In California, it looks like only beer manufacturers are able to refill containers that consumers bring in (i.e. growlers). Further, the manufacturer must obscure any label that is on the container, and affix a new label with information on what beer is now contained within. But, as yet, it does not appear that California permits anyone besides beer manufacturers (say, wineries or beer retailers) to refill growlers.

      Reply
  3. Samantha

    Do you know if ruling number 2014-3 ever came into effect since the suspension?

    Reply
    • Alex Koral - Product Compliance Manager

      Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for the question. Based on TTB notices, it does not appear that ruling 2014-3 was reinstated after the suspension in April, 2014. As that suspension notes, the TTB would go through a process of notice and comment rulemaking before issuing a final ruling on wine growlers. However, it also does not appear that any such rulemaking has yet been finalized.

      Reply
  4. Mike Owen

    Alex Koral – is the status of wine growler sales in CA changed since your 2016 post?

    Reply
    • Alex Koral - Industry Relations Advisor

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the question. We are not aware of any changes to CA’s rules for growlers since 2016. If you are concerned with how the state is treating growlers, we recommend reaching out directly to the ABC, as they will be able to provide more specific advice than we can.

      Reply

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