Beer bill in the Legislature – Where it sits, where it will go

On April 24, LD 1082, the bill “Concerning the Ability of Off-premises Liquor Licensees to Dispense Liquor in Sealed Refillable Containers” went before the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs. The bill was subject to testimony in support and opposition prior to being voted on by the committee. The committee came to a divided status — memebers did not unanimously vote for or against the bill.

I called a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee to find out how the majority voted on this bill and found that the majority vote was Ought Not To Pass except for one vote Ought To Pass.

This committee vote shows that LD 1082 is lacking support but is still alive and may need to have some amendments presented when it goes before the full Maine Senate in order to gain more support. Looking at the testimony in opposition to this bill, it’s clear that there are certain details about refilling growlers in question, details that are present in the current laws that allow breweries and brewpubs to fill growlers. In testimony by both the Maine State Police and Cheryl Timberlake, executive vice president of the Maine Beer and Wine Distributors Association, the same questions regarding LD 1082 are brought up

  1. Definition of size of refillable container.
  2. Could a customer refill a small keg?
  3. Would customers provide their own container?

In Maine Statutes under manufacturer’s licenses, these three questions are answered with one line:

“Malt liquor must be dispensed in bottles provided by and with labels unique to the brewery of 32 to 64 ounces in volume.”

This should be an amendment to the proposed bill, as it answers the question of bottle size and does not allow for refills of small kegs but also doesn’t allow customers to bring in any form of vessel for refill.

  1. Would retailers be able to pre-fill containers for sale?

Again, same statutes for manufacturer’s license specify: “No more than 6 bottles may be pre-filled at any one time.”

I would think this would be an easy amendment for retailers who are already cooling beer in a controlled, carbonated keg and would not want to lose the extra cooler space for filled growlers when there is the possibility of refilling growlers brought back by a customer, this seems like it would be more of hindrance for Brewpubs who would have to stop and fill growlers off of active taps as opposed to having “to go” bottles at the ready.

  1. Would the containers be sealed with tamper proof seals

The same statutes again state: “The bottle in which the malt liquor is dispensed must be sealed by the licensee with a seal that is tamper-evident.”

This seems like an obvious amendment to stay in good standing with current Maine laws on open containers. There is also a line that requires the sales receipt with time stamp be present with the growler, which I have to assume is proof that the product in the bottle is what the person holding it says it is and not something else.

I could continue, but these were the biggest questions from both parties that stood out to me and they are all legitimate questions that should be addressed. I don’t for a moment think that Retailers left out information on container size with the hopes of filling 5 gallon buckets or something crazy, and I realize that branded bottles may be extra cost for the retailers but it’s also a form of advertising. I have purchased plain brown glass growlers from a Maine brewery that were marked with a hangtag, maybe this is an option to get around the extra cost and would allow them to also include information like the Name, Brand and ABV of the beer being dispensed.

Where do we go from here? The bill now needs to go before the House and Senate, the amendments to the bill will need to be made and this may breathe some new life into the bill and bolster some support. If the amended bill passes through the House and Senate it could be on its way to the governor’s desk. If it doesn’t pass it could conceivably be the end for LD 1082, but I would hope it doesn’t go down without a fight.

This is where you come in!  Please call or email your state senator and state representative to make sure they know about LD 1082. If you want to go the extra mile, call or email the sponsors and cosponsors of this bill to make sure they are fighting for it when the bill goes to the full senate and the full house.  At this point, the best chance we have at passage of this bill is if we demand action by our elected officials.  Member lookup: maine.gov/legis/house/townlist.htm.

Sponsor/cosponsor list of LD 1082: http://www.mainelegislature.org/LawMakerWeb/sponsors.asp?ID=280047832

Because I was interested I actually took a look at info from Vermont’s Liquor Control Board, and some of their regulations could easily apply as amendments for LD 1082, in their general regulations they specify that retailers who want to participate in the growler program must notify the Department of Liquor Control, products must be filled for immediate sale, no pre-filling,  clean growlers must be provided by the retailer for each sale so customers would swap out glass each time and the retailer would make sure they are clean which I assume is to support quality control, labels on the product must have name of retailer, product, ABV, name of manufacturer and “Best consumed in 72 hours”.

I would like thank my friend and reader of this blog who would prefer to remain nameless for all the help in research and answering questions for me as I wrote this blog post, I learned a lot about the political process and a lot about Maine liquor laws.

Cheers!

Chaddah

Recommend this article
Chad Lothian

About Chad Lothian

Chad Lothian lives in Old Town, Maine. He is a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer. Chad has travelled to brewpubs, breweries and brewfests all over New England.