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Growler Era Begins For Wicomico Restaurants, Bars

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By JEREMY COX
The Daily Times

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — Bottles, cans, six-packs, cases, kegs.

If there is a way to sell beer to customers, Michael Vizard, the owner of the aptly named Cheers! store on the south side of town, has tried it. He also sells hops and other ingredients in case people want to make their own.

But he couldn’t sell or refill growlers. The law allowed Maryland craft breweries to offer customers ales in the increasingly ubiquitous glass jugs, but not liquor stores or restaurants.

In Wicomico County and a handful of other jurisdictions across the state, that has changed. A law, which was passed by the General Assembly last spring and went in effect July 1, enables certain places licensed to sell alcoholic beverages to offer beer by the growler.

First, they must get local approval. At its meeting Aug. 27, the Wicomico Board of License Commissioners approved growler sales for Cheers! and Adam’s Ribs in Fruitland, the first so far in the county.

Vizard has been in the wine and beer business in Salisbury for more than 30 years. He was a relatively early adopter of craft brews, initially offering them about a decade ago.

He felt at a competitive disadvantage, though, that growlers could be filled at breweries but not at his store.

Now that he can begin pouring, he has jumped in with both feet. Vizard and his staff members have already built a stainless steel bar with five tap handles reflecting on its gleaming surface.

“It’s truly exciting for us because rarely do you get to start a category and see it grow and grow,” he said.

Earlier this year, several Maryland jurisdictions sought and received legislative approval to expand the sale of growlers beyond breweries. They’re now allowed in Wicomico, Anne Arundel, Dorchester, Montgomery and Cecil counties and the city of Annapolis.

Before the law passed, no retailer was allowed to refill any alcoholic container in Maryland, except in Baltimore City and Howard County. Liquor stores in those two areas have been allowed to sell growlers since 2012.

In Wicomico, the measure is expected to raise $5,000 a year in license fees, according to a legislative staff analysis. But that assumes only 10 of the 131 qualified license holders in Wicomico will seek the license and pay the $500 annual cost.

The law allows liquor stores to sell beer in refillable containers between 32 and 128 ounces in size. The containers must be sealable and come emblazoned with the logo of the license holder, a federal warning statement, washing instructions and a message that its contents should be consumed within 48 hours. (It gets a bit flat after that.)

Liquor store growlers will differ from their brewery counterparts in that respect. Breweries aren’t required to include the washing and 48-hour statements.

Vizard hoped to begin selling growlers Sept. 2, with the jugs priced at $4.99 and the beer anywhere from $8 to $40 for some of the more hard-to-find suds.

At Adam’s Ribs, owner Peter Roskovich plans to sell growlers from behind the existing bar. In particular, he hopes to entice customers picking up takeout to also grab some beer to go.

“It’s another revenue stream. If we can sell 10 growlers at $10 a day, that’s an extra $100,” he said, adding that the growler system should be ready by the middle of the week of Sept. 2.

Both establishments plan to feature local breweries, such as Tall Tales in Parsonsburg, Third Wave in Delmar, Evolution in Salisbury and Burley Oak in Berlin.

But they also will have craft brews from elsewhere. Adam’s Rib will continue offering its current tap selection.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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