By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — More, more, more — the ever-present push for more alcohol to be sold in more locations encouraging more consumption continues across North Carolina with beer sellers whining about their need to offer so-called “growlers” in retail stores.
The 64-ounce reusable bottles filled from a beer tap and sealed for take-home use are already legal at Tar Heel breweries; but unlike North Carolina, South Carolina allows them in supermarkets and other retail outlets as well. In fact last fall Piggly Wiggly became the first grocery store in the Southeast to add the taps.
Now, retail establishments are demanding the same in North Carolina with little thought about the consequences.
“What should concern us about any retail establishments selling growlers is that this will significantly expand the market of these high -alcohol content brews,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The way they are marketed now is still limited. But this would expand it considerably — putting the public’s health at risk.”
Taking its name from the buckets of draught beer sold at saloons during the pre-prohibition era, growlers have evolved as an increasingly popular marketing tool for small craft breweries. Drinkers head out with the half-gallon jugs which have a shelf life (unopened, chilled and in the dark) of about a week. Once uncapped, the beverage is good for roughly 48 hours.
It’s unclear where the name “growler” first originated. Some say it described the sound that came from the covered tin pails as the beer splashed around releasing carbon dioxide. Others say it’s a reference to the constant conflict that went on between bartenders who typically put in about a quart of beer and customers wanting the pail filled to the brim.
In any case, the practice has long been frowned upon by those concerned about alcohol abuse, especially as children were often sent to fetch the buckets of beer or “rush the growler.” In fact, a 1905 New York Times article detailed a priest’s crusade against selling liquor to minors that centered on the use of growlers.
While no one is suggesting the modern day jugs — now filled with twice the amount of beer — will be sold to boys and girls, no doubt they will offer more alcohol access to underage drinkers.
The passage of the “Pop the Cap” legislation in 2005 — which the CAL battled — raised the limit on alcohol in a malt beverage from 6 percent to 15 percent.
“We argued then that allowing increased alcohol content in malt beverages was not a good idea because Americans already consume high levels of beer, the drink most abused by those underage and by those on college campuses, where binge drinking and its fallout take the lives of some 1,400 students each year,” the Rev. Creech said.
“Breweries may say that young people don’t typically buy their more expensive craft beers, but the truth is they are drawn to specialty beers that are guaranteed to get them drunk more quickly.”
And the idea that their higher price tags will keep stronger brews out of the hands of the underage simply doesn’t hold water when it comes to growlers.
“Growlers are still approximately half as expensive as drinking in a bar and in New York City, growlers even compete with store-bought bottled beer in price,” according to a May 2009 article on Beer Menus.com.
Readers of The New York Daily news were told how to “Drink Beer Cheaper with a Growler” in an Aug. 25, 2008, article detailing the trend’s re-emergence. Buyers incur the one-time expense of the container, roughly $6, and then spend anywhere from $10 to $20 on having it filled and sealed.
Further, they can take home large quantities of alcohol — there are no limits or licensing requirements connected to growlers — much easier than if they had to haul cans or bottles.
“I think this could really exacerbate the problem of underage drinking,” said the Rev. Creech. “Right now we have Keg Registration in North Carolina. But if Growlers became wide-spread, numerous growlers could be purchased and Keg Registration could be avoided. There would be no way you could trace where the beer was coming from.”
Also, just as newspapers reported that children of the early 1900s often “tested” the growler contents on their way home to mom and dad, today’s growlers make it more difficult for drinking parents to make sure they are not inadvertently supplying alcohol to their kids. A beer missing from a six pack is more obvious than an 8 ounce serving gone from a half gallon.
“Underage drinking is our nation’s top youth drug problem. We can’t risk making it worse simply to please alcohol marketers or store owners demanding the same set-up as in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Creech. “We urge lawmakers not to jump on this ill-fated bandwagon.”