In a contentious return to in-person legislating Thursday, House Republicans and Democrats traded barbs and accusations and got little accomplished. But they did agree on one thing — beer.

Representatives voted 243-92 to approve House Bill 1717, a bill to permit bars and restaurants to sell draft beer in growlers during a declared state of emergency. 

This was the first suggestion made in the Josiah Bartlett Center’s report on how to help restaurants survive the emergency shutdown orders, released in April. 

Our report explained that bars and restaurants were left with thousands of dollars worth of keg beer they couldn’t sell under emergency restrictions because state law forbade them from selling draft beer in any kind of to-go container, including growlers. Growlers are glass beer bottles, typically 64 ounces, with screw-on caps.

HB 1717, introduced by Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, also allows bars and restaurants to fill growlers with a different beer than is on the growler label. Normally, restaurants have to match the beverage to the label on the container, for obvious reasons. This exception lets bartenders fulfill a customer’s request to, say, fill a Shipyard Brewery growler with a Poppy’s Moonship On Blackberry ale by Schilling Beer Co. 

This change would’ve helped restaurants over the last three months had it come in an emergency order. Beer that was on tap in March and early April already has been poured out. Massachusetts beat New Hampshire to this and allowed growler sales in March. 

It’s a shame this legislation comes just as the stay-home order is set to be lifted, but it’s encouraging that a majority of representatives see the need for it. 

The next step is to remove the restriction tying growler-filling to an emergency order. State law already allows patrons to take home opened bottles of wine, provided they are kept out of the reach of the driver. It also allows individuals to purchase filled growlers direct from breweries. There’s no justification for prohibiting growler sales at restaurants. 

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