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A big beer brewhaha

Growlers, glass jugs, hold 64 ounces of beer as seen like this one at Fargo Brewing Co. Due to Fargo’s liquor laws, breweries are the only way to buy growlers here. Dave Wallis The Forum

By Emily Welker / The Forum

FArgo - To those of us who aren’t up on our beverage industry lingo, they sound like the word for the noise Cookie Monster makes while eating: growlers.

But to the city’s growing ranks of craft beer aficionados, they’re a half-gallon of delight, a means of conveying specialty beers to your home from the brewery.

And unless a proposal to change Fargo’s liquor laws goes through, breweries are by and large the only way you can buy a growler here.

With the rise in popularity of craft beers and the relative scarcity of the small-batch, special-release types, liquor stores are stepping up their growler games.

“Those special release (beers), they can be gone by the end of the day,” said Nikki Berglund of Bernie’s Wines and Liquors in Fargo.

Berglund said she originally approached the city liquor board about changing liquor ordinances to allow growlers to be sold at her new wine bar. She discovered there was a lot of interest in allowing the sale of growlers, including from her fellow liquor store proprietors.

“We’re super craft-beer focused,” Berglund said. “I’m interested in drawing that crowd.”

Aaron Hill of Fargo Brewing Co. also likes the idea of liquor stores selling growlers.

He acknowledged growlers can be purchased at his brewery and at other breweries in town, and at the JL Beers restaurant. But, he said it’s more convenient to buy a growler at the local liquor store.

And selling more products at more locations is good for Fargo Brewing Co.’s business, Hill said.

“Our taproom is more of a subsidiary to our distribution business,” he said. “It’d be good for craft beer in general if customers can get more options.”

Other brewers, however, caution that selling growlers may not be good for all craft beer lovers.

Aaron Juhnke of Moorhead’s Junkyard Brewing Co. is worried about issues with growlers he already sees at other businesses.

Some consumers bring in empty growlers that haven’t been cleaned properly, and stores fill them without checking first, creating sanitation worries, Juhnke said.

Chief among his quality-control worries is customers being turned off and thinking “fresh” beer tastes anything but.

Depending on the technique people use to re-fill the growler, issues with oxygenation and carbonization can occur, flattening or oxidizing the beer before the customer gets to the bottom, Juhnke said.

“Breweries go to a lot of trouble to prevent it,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that can go wrong with a growler … I wouldn’t want to sell our kegs for a liquor store to fill growlers from.”

But Juhnke said he wouldn’t oppose the change to Fargo’s liquor laws.

At Fargo’s last liquor control board meeting Sept. 17, city attorney Jodi Bass said Grand Forks is moving forward with ordinances permitting growlers to be sold at liquor stores.

Fargo liquor control board members discussed adding a requirement to a proposed ordinance that would ensure the growlers leave the stores properly sealed.

Berglund said she is still learning about best practices for growlers, but to her it’s worth the extra research.

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