A recent advisory from the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverages Control Commission on growlers has made a lot of news in our community and we wanted to let our customers know what our policy has been, will be going forward, and why we’ve chosen it.
A few months ago, we got into a friendly Twitter debate (it CAN actually happen apparently!) with a few consumers around the state law that required breweries to only fill growlers from their own brewery. From a consumer’s perspective, the law is intuitively silly. It has been seen as an unnecessary expense and an inconvenience as serious craft beer fans tend to amass some hefty collections of glass growlers that they may or may not ever refill.
Please know that we are sincere when we say that we understand the consumer issues 100%. The point we have tried to make recently is that, while the consumer issues are very real, there are other perspectives to the situation that are just as legitimate and while the law may be silly on the surface, it has actually served some valuable purposes for breweries. Without going into a very long dissertation, the biggest benefit to us (we don’t want to speak for other breweries) is that the law has historically protected branding.
We have heard, “branding shouldn’t matter and let the beer speak for itself”. We’re not trying to further the debate, but we feel strongly that branding is absolutely critical in our industry. For anyone who doesn’t believe this, we would challenge them to simply do a series of true blind taste tests across a number of beer styles. If branding doesn’t matter, then the “best” beers of that tasting should come out exactly in order of “ratings” or “popularity”. We’ll bet you $1 they don’t. Branding has a massive impact on individual breweries and is a massive driver in our industry.
Our brand is one of the most valuable assets we have (or any brewery has) and we will protect it to the greatest extent possible.
As we said above, we understand the consumer side completely and sympathize. In order to try to meet, not in the middle, but as close to the consumer side as we could, we implemented our “Growler Exchange Program”. When a customer brings in a true growler (you can’t come in with an empty plastic gallon milk container… don’t laugh… you would be shocked what people do)… if we are presented with a real growler that isn’t one of ours… we will exchange it for one of ours for $1.
That’s been our policy and will be our policy going forward.
Any beer leaving our taproom or brewery will be in our glassware. If you would like to refill a growler that is not ours, we will exchange it for one of ours for $1.
Below are comments we have heard and want to address:
1. “You just want to make more money!”: Our growlers, including shipping, cost us approximately $3 each. We charge $4 for a new growler when getting filled for the first time. If there is a perception that we’re making any actual money “off of growlers”, I can assure you that is not the case. In theory, we could lower our growler price to $0 but then we would have to increase our prices on refills. That dings our regular customers to the benefit of someone who may come in randomly once. Lastly, by exchanging growlers this way, we’re actually losing $2 on every growler we exchange. That said, we would rather lose that money on every new growler than lose control of our brand.
2. “I won’t visit a brewery if I have to get another growler.”: This is one of the main reasons we implemented the exchange program. It’s a shame to lose customers, and it’s a bigger shame for customers to not experience new breweries over something like a growler. By exchanging growlers, we hope we are eliminating the “growing collection of growlers” issue and our hope has been that $1 is not seen as unreasonable. We’ve tried to address customer concerns the best we could and if someone can’t appreciate our concerns enough to see $1 as reasonable… and apologies as this is honestly not meant to be confrontational… but… that’s probably not a customer we want anyway.
Our exchange program seems to have been working out really well over the last few months. That said, we don’t claim to have the perfect solution to the problem and if someone has questions, comments, other ideas, we would love to hear from you.
It is important to understand that while the ABCC’s advisory loosens some of the restrictions on growler filling, it is still illegal in Massachusetts for a brewery to fill a growler branded with another brewery’s logo. Meaning that you still can’t bring a growler from another brewery to us and get it filled.
Lastly… quickly… and then we’ll shut up… Please know that growlers are a rapidly shrinking part of our business, so this topic does not have a huge impact on us. That said, growlers are often the sole packaging option for many start-up and small breweries. Small breweries rarely have the space or capital to implement extremely expensive packaging lines and so growlers are the only way they can go. It’s a shame, and we believe it hurts the overall industry, when folks shun growlers to the extent that we’ve seen in social media. While we appreciate it may cost a couple dollars for a growler, that small expense helps our industry, and someone else’s favorite brewery, grow and say what you want about a glass bottle that’s been getting some bad press… but… without it… our industry wouldn’t been nearly as diverse or have grown as it has over the last few years.