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San Diego Beer Drinkers Find Not All Breweries Welcome Outside Growlers

Mike Hess Brewing in North Park is fairly quiet on a Friday at noon except for a few customers who are picking up their beer for the weekend.

Photo by Claire Trageser

A Mike Hess Brewing beer growler.

Starting this year, California beer drinkers were supposed to be able to take beer jugs called growlers into any brewery and say, "fill 'er up." But not all San Diego breweries have opened up their taps.

Edward Wiezel has two beer jugs called growlers with him. One is marked with the Hess label, and one is blank. Last year, Hess Brewing would only have been allowed to fill the growler with its label on it.

But a California law changed that at the start of this year. Now customers like Wiezel can bring most any growler into Hess and get it filled.

"What I really like is that I can bring in a blank growler and they'll fill it up for me," Wiezel said. "Because it can get pretty difficult to have a growler from every brewery in town. So any brewery that will fill up a blank growler for me, that's pretty nice."

Hess "beertender" Drew Lopez said it's not just unlabeled growlers they'll fill.

While the brewery no longer sells growlers bearing their labels, "we definitely still fill our own growlers and we will fill growlers from other breweries," Lopez said. "They just have to meet some certain requirements. One, they have to be either brown glass or stainless steel, and they have to have the logos covered up."

By state law, the logos have to be covered so the beer inside is accurately labeled. Also, Hess wants growlers to have latch tops, not screw caps, because each time the growler is filled a new cap needs to be used.

For those without growlers, Hess will also can the beer on the spot in what they call a "Purrowler." Lopez will fill a one-liter blank aluminum can with beer and then cap it using a machine right at the bar. He labels the beer and sells it for between $7 and $9.

Lopez said Hess is the first San Diego brewery to offer this beer containment option.

Not all breweries have Hess' open growler policy. It's up to each one to decide whether it'll accept outside growlers and some local breweries, including Karl Strauss, The Lost Abbey and Green Flash, will only fill growlers bearing their own labels. Ballast Point also used to only fill growlers with their labels on them. When KPBS called the brewery on Friday, a representative said the brewery would only fill Ballast Point growlers. An official contacted KPBS on Monday and said that policy had recently changed.

Stone Brewing will fill unlabeled growlers and other breweries' growlers if the label is covered up, as long as they meet certain criteria. Many other local breweries have similar policies. Beer enthusiasts are documenting each brewery's policy in lists and spreadsheets online.

Hess customer Wiezel said he still visits breweries that don't have flexible refill policies, but he's less likely to go multiple times.

"I'll definitely go to try it out, and if I really like it, I might buy a growler from there," he said. "But with a blank growler, if I can fill it up at the brewery, I'm more likely to go back. I'm more likely to bring a blank growler to a brewery I've never been to before and go, 'Oh, wow, that's really good. I think I'll grab some and take it home with me.'"

And that's just what Wiezel did, filling his growlers with Hess' Vienna cream ale Grazias and imperial stout Umbrix to enjoy later at home.

An earlier version of this story said Ballast Point would only fill growlers bearing its label. It has been updated with the brewery's new policy.


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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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