A new front in the simmering growler war opened recently when ABC Fine Wine & Spirits in Lake Mary near Orlando started selling draft beer to-go.
This would not be momentous in other states, but this is Florida, where filling a growler has been limited to the state's few dozen craft breweries in quarts and gallons (not the standard 64 ounces). And, unlike other states, there are no growler fills at bars and liquor stores.
Then Florida's largest liquor retailer changed the game.
ABC, founded 75 years ago in Orlando, has 145 stores, deep pockets and big ambition, including spreading growler fill stations to other Florida cities. It has the resources to challenge the status quo that limits people's ability to buy draft beer to-go from anywhere other than a brewery.
It's true you can find the rare retailer with growler filling stations; Booth's Brewing in Brandon, for example, has been filling growlers for a few months without incident. There are a few others around the state, but most have steered clear since Tipple's Brews in Gainesville ran afoul of state liquor regulators three years ago.
Even Florida breweries limit growler fills to their own beer. And brewpubs won't fill them at all.
But walk into the ABC store in Lake Mary and you can fill a 32 oz. growler with with beer from some of the best breweries in the country — Founders, Cigar City, Dogfish Head, Victory, Green Flash and Sierra Nevada.
How are they doing something few Florida retailers or breweries are willing to try? The company got the OK from state alcohol beverage control officials, said Lorena Streeter, ABC's marketing and communications manager.
"We look at it as a win-win," she said. "We're giving consumers want they want: broader access to craft beer."
Others aren't so sure about the legality. The Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents AB-In Bev distributors, doesn't like growlers (what good is Bud Light in growlers?) and the law is truly vague:
All malt beverages packaged in individual containers sold or offered for sale by vendors at retail in this state shall be in individual containers containing no more than 32 ounces of such malt beverages; provided, however, that nothing contained in this section shall affect malt beverages packaged in bulk or in kegs or in barrels or in any individual container containing 1 gallon or more of such malt beverage regardless of individual container type.
That's about it.
ABC's embrace of growlers comes just months after craft brewery-backed legislation to legalize 64-ouncers died in Tallahassee and it might be just the thing to build public awareness about growlers. As I have argued before, limiting growlers to the small segment of the market that is willing or able to visit a brewery limits public awareness, which hurts efforts to pass legislation legalizing 64-ounce growlers. So far, Big Beer has blocked growler reform, but ABC sells a lot of Big Beer products, so this could get interesting.
Meanwhile, cheers to ABC. Now how about getting some growler filling stations around Tampa Bay? Be patient, Street said. They're coming.