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Growler bill could mean boost for craft beer industry

CHRIS DORST | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Pies & Pints bartender Scott Waggener fills a 32-ounce “howler” with Mothman Black IPA, a regional beer brewed by Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company in Lewisburg.
Waggener seals a freshly filled “howler” on Saturday.
A 64 oz. size growler from Pies & Pints, which can be brought back to the restaurant and refilled repeatedly.

The growler: 64 ounces of craft beer in a resealable, refillable bottle meant for toting brews home and sharing a drink that otherwise could only be found behind a bar or in the brewery.

Until Friday, filling a growler in West Virginia meant visiting the source, but Senate Bill 273, passed during the last legislative session, will allow restaurants that carry craft beers to sell them in sealed growlers.

Scott Waggener, a bartender at Pies & Pints in Charleston, filled more than a dozen new growlers and howlers — a smaller 32-ounce bottle the restaurant now offers — on Friday, and said customers were delighted they could now take their favorite beers home.

“The main appeal is that in West Virginia, there are a lot of good brewing companies and emerging brewing companies that only keg their beer, so you can only get it on draft in bars like here, so for people to be able to take these beers home for the first time and share them is the biggest thing,” he said. “I think it’ll do a lot to grow the exposure of local beer.”

Black Sheep Burritos in Charleston held its own celebratory promotion for the law Friday, offering free growlers — cost of beer not included — and sold 338 growlers of beer over the course of the day.

The new law allows one customer to purchase up to four growlers at a time, for a total of 256 ounces of beer — about 32 glasses. According to Waggener, the growler should be consumed within 48 hours, but once a customer buys a growler, they can bring the empty bottle back to Pies & Pints and have it refilled for only the cost of the beer. At Pies & Pints, the purchase of a growler plus beer ranges between $15 and $20 depending on the chosen beer, Waggener said.

“It’s being able to drink beers at home that you normally couldn’t,” he said.

Lincoln Wilkins, owner of Blackwater Brewing Company in Davis, West Virginia, thinks new laws concerning bee are likely to result in a financial boon for the state. Another bill passed this year lowers taxes on sales made in tasting rooms in breweries.

Blackwater is one of three brewing companies in Tucker County, and one of only 11 breweries in the state. Wilkins said he believes greater access to craft beers across the state and reducing the barriers to entry for new breweries will bolster the industry for the Mountain State.

“Any retailer who is able to acquire a simple $100-a-year license with the appropriate tax system and space to do so can now fill up a growler,” he said. “I hear it all the time — ‘hey, we were looking for a vacation spot, and what pushed us over the edge toward the Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley area was that there are three breweries.’ It’s often not the primary factor unless you’re a craft beer enthusiast, but it can be that straw where someone says, ‘well, we have five options, but man do I love craft beer.’”

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.

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