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New law allows craft beers to be sold in growlers

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PHOENIX – For many beer aficionados, nothing beats the freshness and flavor of a microbrew straight from the tap. Many drive miles to brewpubs to fill up glass bottles, also called growlers, with their favorites.

Under a new state law, beer lovers now can fill those growlers at bars or retailers that have microbrews on tap.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, the law’s sponsor, said the change expands sales outlets for microbreweries and offers a new revenue stream for bars as well as stores that sell beer and wine.

“Right now, this is an area where they have no way to have you leave with an individual-sized, fresh-tasting beer,” Mesnard said. “As craft breweries have really caught on fire here in Phoenix area, this is a situation we need to address.”

The law requires that growlers be clean, hold one gallon or less, be sealed with plastic adhesive after filling and display a government warning label. Growlers can’t be filled at a drive-through or walk-up service window.

A Total Wine and More location in uptown Phoenix has added a section offering growlers and taps dispensing 12 craft beers, including Four Peaks Peach Ale and Barrio Tucson Blonde.

“The idea is to bring beer to consumers that they would not be able to have otherwise,” said Mark Massimi, the manager. “There are a lot of beers that people will typically drink out of a bottle or can, but this way you get to try a real draft beer at home.”

The business builds from there, he said.

“Once one person or two people come here to purchase a growler, it attracts the attention of other people,” Massimi said.

The Whole Foods Market in Chandler has rotated 31 craft beers sold in growlers since the law took effect. Up to 26 customers come to buy draft beer in growlers each day, said Richard Cervone, team leader for the store’s specialty department, adding that he expects sales to be especially strong during the holidays.

“Customers are very happy about it,” Cervone said.

Meanwhile, Four Peaks Brewing Co. in Tempe has seen a jump in keg beer sales to liquor stores and bars since early August, said Patrick Murphy, the microbrewery’s assistant general manager.

“Once customers get used to the new law changes, we expect to see the revenue to pick up even more,” Murphy said.

Jessica Smith, coordinator of the Arizona Chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions, said her organization opposes the law in part because growlers may not be clearly labeled with a beer’s alcohol level. That could increase cases of driving under the influence, she said.

“My first reaction is that we’re becoming more regressive in our laws … that relate to alcohol,” Smith said.

However, Mesnard said he doesn’t see the law creating such problems.

“As long as you’re following the rules … there isn’t any functional difference between buying a growler of alcohol and buying a can or six-pack or bottle,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control is prepared to enforce the law, said Lee Hill, a spokeswoman.

“We will be very diligent working not only with our officers but all DPS, sheriff’s officers and all of the local law enforcement to make sure that this law is serving the community well and the licensees are taking the restrictions and their responsibilities extremely seriously,” she said.

Under the law, the department will report to the governor’s office and Legislature on effects of the law by July 1, 2015.