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