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TTB Ruling Clarifies Retailers May Bottle and Sell Refillable Wine Growlers

by Cyril Penn
March 13, 2014

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau issued a ruling yesterday clarifying how retailers can legally fill growlers with tax-paid wine for consumption off premise: by registering as tax-paid wine bottling houses.

Whole Foods, a leader in keg wine and in reusable containers, has been selling wine in growlers in Texas for the past two years, and helped pave the way for the TTB ruling. Whole Foods already serves a lot of wine on its premises that is packaged in kegs so growlers are a logical next step.

“As a market leader in terms of alternative alcohol marketing, they’re cutting edge and the concept of the reusable containers really fits their image.” Compliance Service of America principal Alex Heckathorn ‎said.

Beer is more commonly served in growlers for off premise consumption but federal regulations previously didn’t specifically permit retailers to repackage or rebottle wine.

Two states – Oregon and Texas – specifically allow retailers to fill growlers with wine for sale off-premise already. In a third state – Washington – legislation awaiting the governor’s signature would allow retailers to bottle wine for off-premise consumption. Legislation recently introduced in Tennessee would also specifically allow retailers to sell wine in refillable containers.

There’s some concern coming from industry trade groups that growlers may not be a good idea because of the risks of oxidation. There’s also some skepticism in the beer word, where retailers are increasingly offering growlers.

According to Wilridge Winery winemaker Paul Beverage, who is also with Family Winemakers of Washington, legislation to allow retailers to sell growers was initially derailed in Washington, in part because of the ambiguity about the federal rules.

“We hope to be filling growlers at Pike Place market in Seattle this summer,” Beverage said. “We’ve been doing it at our winery in the Madrona area of Seattle for two or three years now and it’s been hugely successful. People love it.”

John Morgan Comments:

Actually, the Washington Bill awaiting Governor Inslee's signature would not allow retailers to fill growlers. The bill put forward by Family Wineries of Washington State, as originally proposed, would have done so (allowed growlers filling in taverns, wine and beer specialty shops, restaurants and breweries - everywhere beer can be sold in growlers - as well as in winery secondary tasting rooms). Unfortunately the Washington Wine Institute and California Wine Institute threatened to oppose the bill unless the scope was limited to winery secondary tasting rooms only.

Interestingly, neither the CWI or the WWI objected to a bill, also awaiting the Governor's signature, that would allow filling of cider growlers (wine under 7% alcohol made from apples or pears) all the places that beer growlers can be filled.

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