Wisconsin grocers want to refill growlers in stores

Wisconsin Grocers Association wants to amend Class-A Liquor Licenses

Beer could be the focus of debate for Wisconsin lawmakers as grocery stores hope for a change in state liquor licenses.

The Wisconsin Grocers Association is pushing to allow customers the option to get fresh beer on tap at local grocery stores.

Right now in the state of Wisconsin, most grocery stores have a Class-A Liquor License allowing them to sell pre-packaged beer and liquor.  Now the Grocer Association would like to amend the license to allow customers to re-fill their half-gallon glass containers, known as growlers, with beer fresh from the tap at the store.

When you walk into the liquor section of a grocery store, there are rows and rows and rows of craft beer with the option to buy in bulk, whether it’s a six-pack or 12-pack.

“We are looking at a huge growth spurt again for craft beer,” said Joe Katchever, owner and brew master of Pearl Street Brewery.

Now the Wisconsin’s Grocers Association is looking to expand beer drinker’s options.

“The industry, really around the country, has been moving in this direction,” said Marlin Greenfield, Senior VP chief operating officer for Festival Foods.

A direction where grocery stores would be able to refill growlers, a 64-ounce glass bottle usually bought at breweries.

“A half-gallon container with a lid and seal on the top,” said Katchever.

“It doesn’t mean we can have a bar in the store where people could consume on the premise. All it would mean is they could bring in or buy an empty jug from us and we would fill that jug with their favorite tap flavor,” said Greenfield.

Katchever sees the glass half full.

“It can definitely help a brewery to get their beer out there and do it in an environmentally friendly way,” said Katchever. “When you buy a growler, instead of a six-pack, you don’t have six bottles to throw away, caps or labels.”

But for the La Crosse Tavern League, the glass is already half empty.

“The last venue we really do have is tap beer so we would like to keep that in house,” said Mike Brown, president of La Crosse Tavern League. “We are losing enough market shares every year so we are just trying to protect the little bit we do have left.”

But as a whole, the Wisconsin Grocers Association hopes it’s a plus for everyone.

“I don’t think it replaces your trip to your favorite tavern or saloon, that’s not it,” said Greenfield. “Their increased awareness and interest in craft brews is good for the entire industry, whether it’s at home consumption or in a bar or in a restaurant.”

There is no current legislation but the Grocer Association is asking Wisconsinites to voice their opinion about the topic by going to the website foodaction.net/wisconsingrocers.

More than a dozen states have already amended their Class-A license to allow liquor stores within grocery stores to fill up growlers for customers.