Beer Buzz: Take-Home Tap Beer Could be Coming to County

Nov 6, 2013

Little brown jugs--bigger ones too--are becoming more widespread in Maryland.

In eight localities around the state, including Baltimore city, you can go to a liquor store, fill up a jug, or "growler," with fresh beer, and take it home. But if you cross the line into Baltimore County, you can’t.

Because of the way Maryland’s liquor laws are written, each locality in the state must have approval from the General Assembly to dispense growlers. Jack Milani is legislative director for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association. He says liquor store owners in the county have seen growler sales take off elsewhere, and they want in. So, they’ll ask for the green light from the legislature.

“Obviously, we have some retailers who, looking back, would have wanted to put it in last year and we had talked about it,” Milani says. “But we had other pressing issues at the time and we didn’t push it.”

But the push is on now. Milani says he’s lined up the House and Senate chairs of the Baltimore County delegation—Del. John Olszewski (D) and Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D)--to sponsor the county growler legislation. And there may be a blanket bill to cover the state. The trick is coming up with the right wording because localities have their own liquor codes.

Retail liquor stores in the city have been able to apply for a growler’s license since July of last year. The Pinehurst Wine Shoppe in the Bellona-Gittings neighborhood was one of the first to apply for the license. Pinehurst manager Gordon McNamara says growlers have been good for business and the environment.

“We’ve gone through 600 different beers, which is kind of cool,” he says. “We’ve filled 895,000 ounces of beer in 14 months, which is approximately 13,000 growlers. But more importantly, it’s 74,000 bottles and cans not in the landfill.”

Pinehurst customer David Seylor says it’s the tasting before buying that he likes. “I like to try the different beers from the different breweries and experiment with the different types, the pale ales and the Octoberfest beers and things like that. [It’s] an opportunity to do that and you don’t have to go home and go, ‘Ehhh, don’t really like that.’”

Jed Jenny, the beer buyer for the Wine Source in Hampden, says growlers give him the chance to sell unusual beers. “Really can’t fit too many more six packs on our shelves,” Jenny says. “So for a limited release to come out we can fill out the market with that or at least get it in some people’s hands.”

How did a jug of beer get to be known as a growler?

No one knows for sure, but there are some intriguing theories.

The Oxford English Dictionary says “growler” is American slang for “a vessel in which beer is fetched.” It cites an 1888 article in the New York Herald, reporting that workers in factories employed young boys and girls to “fetch beer for them, or, in other words to rush the growler.”

This ties in with one theory for the name from Beeradvocate.com. It’s possible “growler” came about because buckets of beer used to be given to factory workers “before their stomachs began to ‘growl’ from hunger. 

Beeradvocate.com says another possibility is “when the beer sloshed around the pail, it created a rumbling sound as the CO2 escaped through the lid, thus the term ‘growler’ was coined.” 

Bottless.net, a craft beer web site, says “growler” may harken back to constant disputes between customers and bartenders over how much beer should go into a two quart pail. That led to grumbling, or growling.