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May 8, 2009

Another obscure liquor law: Growlers are illegal

duclaw growlersI'll bet you didn't know that growlers are technically illegal.

Ever seen a growler? It's a resealable glass jug used to hold draft beer. If you own a growler, you can have it filled at a number of local bars.

The upside to having a growler is the beer is fresher than if it was bottled, and you get a large quantity of beer (about five pints, depending on the size of the growler) for much cheaper than if you had bought five pints individually at a bar.

According to liquor laws, it's illegal to "refill or reuse any container" with beer or liquor in a licensed establishment, according to Steve Fogleman, chairman of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City.

This law, if I may say so myself, is silly. People have been filling growlers in Baltimore City since before Prohibition. I'm glad the liquor board hasn't been enforcing it.

In fact, Fogleman is working to have the law repealed ...

"We're going to change that rule," he told me yesterday.

Fogleman has been eyeing a bunch of old liquor laws that he thinks don't make sense anymore, and wants to have them updated. 

Here's another one: Have you ever seen city watering holes set out free finger food on the bar? A year or two ago, I was in Birds of a Feather, the scotch bar in Fells Point, and the owner, Alicia Horn, set out small, homemade personal pan pizzas for her regulars. Well, that's illegal too -- at least in the city, Fogleman said.

City liquor laws state that bars can't give out free food -- just "pretzels, crackers, chips and the like," Fogleman said. State law says the same thing, except it includes hors d'oeuvres.

"I've been in [city] bars where they put something a little more substantial than pretzels out," Fogleman said.

Fogleman hopes to allow city bars to give away free hors d'oeuvres too.

Good idea, Steve.

(Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:26 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Both of those laws are ridiculous and one of my favorite things about going up to Slippery Rock, PA, where my grandparents used to live, was getting a bunch of growlers to bring back home to MD. Slippery Rock used to be a dry town and only in the past few years have they brought alcohol back in, starting with a fantastic microbrewery serving alternative takes on the town's name, such as "Slimey Pebble" beer. Now, time to hit google for growlers in london!


Hey Fogleman, what's the rule on kids being seated at restaurant bars with their parents? Is it ok up to a certain hour of the day? Please help settle a debate between myself and another bartender friend.

The wording of this law is pretty ridiculous if you interpret it literally - "it's illegal to refill or reuse any container with beer or liquor..." That would suggest that all beer/drinks would have to be served in disposable containers. Afterall, isn't a growler just a big beer glass!

Does anyone know where the term "growler" came from?

For RayRay:


Curiously, for those of us who are brewpubs, our state microbrewery license expressly permits us to fill and sell our beer in refillable containers:
Maryland Code, Article 2B, § 2-208

Dear Mr. Fogelman,

I am guest bartending at Baltimore bar soon. If I play nothing but The Smiths and Morrissey, how many liquor laws can I violate?

A few, half, or all?

Thanks for the link. I only read the first page fron The Beer Advocate, and I saw two definitions for growler that I hdan't heard. I thought it was from the sound the bottle made as it was slid across the slotted drain tray below the taps.


To the best of my knowledge, there is no prohibition whatsoever in Baltimore City for minors accompanied by an adult. Not to mention, baby-friendly is the "wave" of the future.


The answer is 3. And they will be picked randomly on the eve of the gig by my BlackBerry SuperComputer.

@ Anon. That's awesome! You bartending at the Dripping Wrist over in Canton?

You's mean I's can brings my babies now? Come on Tiffany, Heather (twice), Cody, Dylan, Dermot, Jacob, Jordan, Taylor, Brittany, Wesley, Rumer, Scout, Cassidy, Zoe, Chloe, Max, Hunter, Kendall, Caitlin, Noah, Sasha, Morgan, Kyra, Ian, Lauren, Qbert, Phil, Condoleezza Marie, and Rubella Scabies! We're going to Ixia then Redwood Trust!

Steve -

Along as it's the 3 that allow me to serve shots to topless 18 year old girls.

I'll get one of our mutual friends to defend me.

Cletus don't forget Donny, Ray Ray, Crystal, Tammy, Skyler and lil' Johnny!

Kind of funny story. I have about 7 or 8 growlers (compulsive law breaker, i know), and went to pratt street ales to get 4 of 'em filled. I had about 3 from their place with the Oliver logo on them, and one from DuClaw. They refused to fill the DuClaw container (although when they were the wharf rat, they filled any container), citing some law that it was illegal for them to fill a container from another establishment. I felt slightly annoyed, but instead of only getting 3 growlers, they gave me an extra one for free! My annoyance vanished immediately. Kudos to pratt street ales on this one, but kind of funny to hear that all growlers are illegal.

Any idea whether the "no other establishments" law is ever enforced? Is it on the list of ones to repeal?

The "growlers have to be ours" rule is either selectively "enforced" by places filling them who believe the law says the beer has to leave in their own labeled containers, or is routinely ignored by the other places. I mean, sincerely, if growlers themselves are illegal, then who cares whose name is on them? Every place I've seen doing this seems to be trying to obey what they understand the law to be, not gouging the consumer for the price of another growler, as far as I can tell.

I still have a DeGroen growler that I used to get filled at Racers in Parkville, and at the Fells Point Wharf Rat.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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