Delaware Beer News: Building a Case for Growler Sales in the State of Delaware

Growlers from Peco’s Liquors ready to be filled with tasty Delaware Beer (Peco’s Facebook Page).

Many of you have no doubt found yourself in a situation where you need to get a home project done.  Maybe you want to add a deck to the back of your house.  Maybe you want to add an addition or fix the roof.  Or maybe you just want to do a little renovation.  So like any home owner you scope out the project, decide what work needs to be done, figure out how you’re going to pay for it, and then take care of the first thing you need to do before you start any fix-it-up project – get a State law passed.

Ok, that probably doesn’t happen to us everyday Joe’s very often but that’s pretty much where Ed Mulvihill  found himself when he wanted to make renovations to his family liquor store, Peco’s Liquors.  Faced with the challenge of increasing revenue by more than just increasing floor space, Ed came up with what he thought would be a simple solution.  Part of the renovation would include a growler filling station.

Inspired by the obvious success of growler sales in both PA and NJ, Ed thought the idea made sense.  “I can drive 15 minutes into PA and get growler of 60 minute IPA, but if I want to do that in Delaware I need to go all the way to Milton or Rehoboth Beach, ” he said to me in a recent telephone conversation.

But what he thought was a simple solution turned out not to be.  Although initially encouraged that the Beverage Commission’s book said nothing about the illegality of selling growlers, a conversation with the Commission itself proved that just because the book didn’t said, ‘thou shalt not’, didn’t mean ‘thou can’.  The Commission’s recommendation to Ed when he asked how he should proceed?.  “Get a State law passed.”

“I didn’t know anything about getting a State law passed,” Ed confessed.  “I mean, I’d seen School House Rock.”

So Ed reached out to Eight District State Representative Debra Heffernan (D) and along with help and support from Mike Whitwell of Premier Wine and Spirits, Bob & Jeff Kreston of Kreston Wine and Spirits, and Bill Lower of Harvey Hanna and Associates, started to go through the necessary steps of making growler sales legal in the state of Delaware.  “We didn’t want this to be a thing for just Peco’s, we wanted it to be something for everyone.”

And time passed.  The bill stalled at one point when Debra wasn’t sure she had enough votes and because, as Ed was quick to point out, the state government had a lot more important things to discuss than growler sales.

But finally a couple of months ago, she and Ed touched base again, and Debra indicated that she felt it was time to move forward.  And move forward it did.  Peco’s held a press conference on March 7th where; along with industry support from the likes of Sam Hobbes from Twin Lakes, Chadd Campell and Claus Hagelman from 16 Mile, and a Mike Contreras from Dogfish Head, Debra introduced House Bill 31 echoing Ed’s words that Delaware craft beer lovers should not have to drive over state lines to purchase the beer they enjoy.

It then made its way to the House or Representatives by way of the Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce Committee on March 13th where is passed unanimously, 37 to 0.  Then after an almost 2 week stay in the Small Business Committed it was passed on to the Senate where it passed 21-0.  Ed credits Debra for all her effort, “She took it to everyone she thought would have an issue with it and and asked, “what do you think?””  If all goes to plan, Governor Jack Markell will sign the bill into law sometime during the week of May 13th-19th, in conjunction with American Craft Beer Week.

And local liquor stores are getting ready.  When I talked to Jeff Kreston about the up coming chance to sell growlers at his two stores, he was very enthusiastic.  “We are definitely going to take advantage of the new growler law in both our Wilmington and Middletown locations,” he relayed to me in an email conversation. “Growlers are a new step to get our craft beer customer more beers and allow customers to buy beer that might only be made in kegs.”

Which is a valid point.  While it’s true that the breweries of Delaware make great shelf product, many of the best beers (IMHO) some of these breweries make are available in kegs only.  A point that Mike Whitwell of Premier Wine and Spirits also eluded to when I asked him about the upcoming law, “Most of the beer from Twin Lakes is only available in kegs.”

So is Premier ready?  “We are investing thousands in state of the art Growler filling equipment and staff training to be a true destination for the BEER GEEKS OF DELAWARE!!!,” he stated in an email conversation.  How soon after the law is passed will Premier be filling growlers for all of us beer geeks?  “Our intention is to be up and selling within 48 hours of when the commissioner gives the green light!”

What can we expect as far as beers?  Ed, Jeff and Mike have all indicated a strong pull toward local beers.  “We will definitely be doing local since we are surrounded in DE with so many great breweries. Fordham, Dominion, Dogfish, 16 mile, Twin Lakes, etc,” Jeff said.  “Last October we purchased a barrel of Knob Creek single barrel. The bourbon was bottled to sell in our stores and we took the barrel to our good friends at Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. in Dover, DE and filled it with the amazing Double D double ipa. It has been aging and soon will be put in 1/6 kegs ready for our growlers!!!”

As for the rest?  Well Jeff rounded it out, “We will defiantly do rare. We have some great connections with breweries already and plan to take advantage of it. We will offer beer that is not available in a can/bottle for most of our growlers.”

“Yes, Local will definitely be a key focus,” Mike wrote, indicating that “several beers from Twin Lakes, at least 1-2 of the current seasonal beers, and something from DogFish and Fordham” will be among the first beers to flow out of Premier’s system.

And Ed believes that when Peco’s entire system is up and running, about half of the taps available would be local beers, while the other half would be dedicated to beers from other areas.

So just how many taps are we talking about?  Well, while the vision of a small kegerator sitting in the back of your local  store with a couple of taps could  be the case in some smaller liquor stores,  these major players in the local beer market are jumping in with both feet as Jeff pointed out, “We are still considering all our options but we think we will have 8-12 taps to start our growler sales in both stores.”

Mike offered, “We are going to start with 4-6 taps. We’ll see but our goal is to have 8+ taps.”

Ed also indicated that his family’s store was fully committed to this endeavor,  “We currently have two Micro Matic 8 tap systems sitting in Philly.”  According to Ed, Peco’s will start with 8 taps not long after the bill is signed into law and hope to have the second 8 (Ed is still considering the possibility of going as high as 24 taps) up and running full time by labor day, “We have to wait for the renovations to be fully done.”

Fair enough.  After all, all this was just so Ed could get that renovation done.  Remember?

[The author would like to kindly thank Mike Whitwell, Jeff Kreston and Ed Mulvihill, for giving me some of their valuable time to allow me to write this post. ]