IL Brewers & Distributors to Bars & Beer Stores: Don’t Fill Growlers

In Beer News by Ryan12 Comments

Last year, Michigan’s governor signed a bill into law allowing bars and restaurants to fill growlers.

Last week, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois formed a unified front against bars, restaurants and beer stores filling growlers.

icbgThe ICBG solidified its position in a letter to members from its Board of Directors which simply states, “The Board is not in favor of non-brewers selling growlers to the public.” The letter, which you can read in its entirety below, includes language of the current law and reiterates the Guild’s support of the statute as-is.

“[F]illing growlers is a well-established right or special privilege in Illinois that brewers (manufacturers) have in order to guarantee and protect the integrity and freshness of their product,” the letter states.

While the ABDI is not named in the letter, spokesperson Carol Shirley tells Guys Drinking Beer they met with members of the ICBG and discussed the issue in February. “ABDI stands with the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild on this issue, as we too believe the integrity of the product may be jeopardized,” said Shirley.

We know of only a handful of instances where growlers were being filled at the retail level or a business expressed an interest in doing so over the last few years. Sheffield’s, in Chicago, filled growlers for a brief period. The practice was well advertised and eventually stopped, although we’re not sure at whose behest.

When Walgreens began construction on its State Street location in the Loop, the company quietly inquired about being allowed to fill growlers there. The idea, however, disappeared just as quietly as it first surfaced. I am sure there are other places that did fill growlers or currently do — but keep it under wraps. There are hundreds of bars in Chicago, it’s hard to know what all of them are up to.

There is one retail outlet that was interested in selling growlers to go on the up and up — Binny’s Lincoln Park. We traded emails with Beer Manager Adam Vavrick in 2012, prior to the revamp of that store’s beer section. Vavrick ran the idea up the flag pole with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission who initially gave him the green light but then retreated and told him, via email, “A growler can be filled from where it is manufactured, but not from a retail establishment.”

It would take a change in state law and likely a city ordinance to allow for a store or bar to legally fill growlers. It didn’t look like that was happening in 2012 and it certainly isn’t happening now.

We relayed the ICBG’s stance to Vavrick who was disappointed, to say the least. He pointed out that 34 other states allow growler fills at the retail level. “To say that they’re worried about the quality of their product suffering is a fair point, but it seems ludicrous to imply that retailers here can’t/won’t do it properly,” said Vavrick.

Vavrick also believes the Guild missed an opportunity to generate discussion on the issue. “This is a fantastic way for everyone (Brewers, Retailers, & The ILCC) to sit down to create standards to protect the integrity of the product, offer the consumer a new way of experiencing their fine beers, and to further build a working relationship between all parties,” said Vavrick.

This certainly doesn’t mean at some point down the road the laws won’t be changed or that someone couldn’t rally the troops — particularly from the retail level — to push for a change in the law. But a unified brewers guild and distributors association makes that an even steeper challenge.

However, Vavrick hasn’t given up and we suspect the half-dozen or so people who email us each year wanting to know about growler fills at retail outlets won’t either. “Changing the growler laws would be good for everyone,” said Vavrick.

Dear Members of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild,

The Board of Directors of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild (ICBG) has come together with a conclusive stance on behalf of Illinois craft breweries regarding growler sales. The Board is not in favor of non-brewers selling growlers to the public.

According to Chapter 235, Liquor Control Act of 1934, Article V, growler fills are allowed under the brewpub and manufacturer licenses but not allowed under retail licenses: 235 ILCS 5/6-22. [Unauthorized filling of original packages prohibited; retail sale other than in original packages prohibited] Sec. 6-22. No person except a manufacturer or distributor, or importing distributor, shall fill or refill, in whole or in part, any original package of alcoholic liquor with the same or any other kind or quality of alcoholic liquor, and it shall be unlawful for any person to have in his possession for sale at retail any bottles, casks or other containers containing alcoholic liquor, except in original packages (which are defined in Sec. 1-3.06 as follows): “Original package” means any bottle, flask, jug, can, cask, barrel, keg, hogshead or other receptacle or container, whatsoever, used, corked or capped, sealed and labeled by the manufacturer of alcoholic liquor, to contain and to convey any alcoholic liquor.).

The Board of Directors feels that this existing law remains appropriate, as filling growlers is a well-established right or special privilege in Illinois that brewers (manufacturers) have in order to guarantee and protect the integrity and freshness of their product. The Board of Directors also understands and appreciates the desire of retailers to share this established right with brewers and the common desire by both retailers and breweries alike to sell even more of our great craft beers. Nevertheless, fulfilling those worthy desires cannot come at the expense of risking the integrity or quality of the brewer’s product. The law’s current requirement that only the manufacturer/brewer can fill and seal original containers protects the consumer, and ultimately the retailers and brewers, by ensuring that the beer purchased by the consumer originated from that particular brewery as intended.

About the Author


A long-time political reporter, Ryan spearheads Guys Drinking Beer's in-depth coverage of beer news and craft beer legislation in Illinois and beyond. When he’s not digging through the annals of state government he’s looking for unique beers to cellar.


  1. D

    I can understand the brewers concern, but if a retail establishment is qualified to maintain the “integrity” of the product by selling draft pints, it’s not a huge leap to think they can do the same with growlers.

  2. Dave

    I do not understand the brewer’s concerns on this issue. Just how is the “integrity of their product” compromised by this practice and how is it that brewers in so many other States (where growlers are filled a retail level) don’t seem to have this “integrity” issue?

  3. Kevin

    The profit margins on growlers in Chicago is ridiculously high, and the profit margins on keg sales is low. Why would a brewery want to give that up. It actually hurts the brewpubs that don’t distribute

  4. Ryan Author

    All valid points everyone. I’ll say here what I said over on our Facebook page; both the ICBG and ABDI are interest groups and have taken this stance to protect their members. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with their reasoning or even believe it. It is what it is.

  5. Ryan Author

    It is also worth noting that Larry Bell opposed Michigan’s new law allowing bars and restaurants to fill growlers on the very same grounds. At the time Bell’s was not offering growler fills at the Eccentric Cafe or General Store. They do now.

  6. Patrick Ryan

    If a tainted growler from a retailer somehow makes a drinker sick, would the breweries have any liability under IL law? That could be one factor.

  7. Steve

    While I understand the quality concerns this is still a disappointing position for the ICBG and ABDI to take. By all accounts there is high consumer demand for this and it would be very popular. They should be working with bars and retailers to ensure best practices/standards are in place so the quality and integrity of the beer is maintained.

    I hope they revisit this in the future because this is a route to market that will be needed for the increasing number of breweries in the Chicagoland area. Personally, I think that Oregon’s generous growler laws are one of the reasons why, with a population less than half the Chicagoland area(3.9M to 9.8M), they’re able to support 150+ breweries in their state.

  8. Ryan Author

    I would think that would fall under Illinois’ Dram Shop Law, Patrick, but I could be wrong.

  9. Jim B

    Moving here in June from Oregon, which has growler fills everywhere – gas stations included. Truly a shame that it’s so restrictive here when smaller breweries would really benefit from the sales of growlers from retail locations. As far as the quality question and the liability question, the Oregon law makes retailers responsible for ensuring the growlers that customers purchase or re-fill, are clean and that releases them from liability.

  10. Kelley

    I have lived in Washington and Oregon where growler filling is everywhere, and just moved to the Chicago area from Nashville where growler filling stations and craft beer pubs are popping up in every neighborhood and am shocked that IL does not allow retailers to fill growlers. It’s very disappointing – as is the lack of micro breweries. I guess craft beer culture isn’t really thriving here as it is elsewhere. Such a shame that my growler collection will sit to gather dust….probably until we move to a more beer-friendly state.

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