- Associated Press - Saturday, January 17, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - For the first year of business at Charleston Brewing Co., the growler business was strong.

Hopping, you might say.

Craft beer fans purchased the 64-ounce resealable glass jugs and then brought them back time and again to be refilled with their favorite brew.

“They were selling very well,” head brewer Ryan Heastings said. “It was a very brisk trade.”

But the CBC’s inventory of growlers recently sat stuffed in a storage closet, save for a few placed high above the bar as mantel decor.

Growlers haven’t been sold or refilled at 702 Quarrier St. since early December.

Black Sheep Burrito and Brews took over the restaurant and bar last January. Charleston Brewing then became a one-man show, with Heastings brewing all of the beer in the back.

When that happened, growler sales became illegal at the site.

But no one there knew about the obscure state law that says only brewpubs - establishments that both brew and sell beer on site - may refill growlers to-go for customers. Simple breweries can’t. Neither can restaurants like Black Sheep.

“For the first year of the company, the brewery and restaurant were one entity,” Heastings said. “For the last year, we’ve had two separate businesses, which created the issue with selling (growlers).”

In early December, an anonymous tipster reported the restaurant to the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration for offering “bottomless mimosas” on the brunch menu. An inspector paid a visit.

The mimosa deal also ran afoul of state law, but no one at the restaurant was aware of that fact, either.

“It’s illegal to have an all-you-can-drink situation,” Heastings said.

While on scene, the inspector noticed the growlers behind the bar. Staffers were told to cease selling and refilling them.

Heastings said it feels terrible to send away customers who want their growler refilled with his product. He hopes state lawmakers fix the issue this session. State Sen. Chris Walters, R-Kanawha, said he is optimistic that will happen.

Walters said there is consensus among members of his party - which took control of the state Legislature in last year’s elections - to make the state’s laws more business-friendly.

He said attorneys still are researching the issue and drafting legislation.

“We’re looking at the law in North Carolina,” Walters said. “They seem to have a very business-friendly law. We’re trying to figure out how they do it.”

North Carolina passed a law in 2013 expanding growler sales. Now, beer enthusiasts can fill up anywhere from a brewery to a gas station, provided the station has a license to pour.

Walters said he also wants the legislation to address proper sanitation methods for growlers, and stipulate they must be sealed before they are transported home, among other things.

“We need to have things in place so you don’t have an open container,” he said.

He knows some of the more socially conservative members of his party could take issue with expanding alcohol sales. He said they are entitled to their opinion.

“I’m optimistic,” he said, adding that lawmakers passed a bill in the 2014 session expanding the types of alcohol that can be sold in sidewalk dining areas. Prior to last year, that only included beer. Now it includes wine and liquor as well.

“That passed with no issues whatsoever,” Walters said. “I know the makeup has changed since then, but many of those people who supported that measure are still there.”

Brian Arnett of the West Virginia Brewer’s Association said beer makers support the change.

He said this is the first time he can recall state lawmakers welcoming input from brewers on new legislation.

At one point, there was discussion of expanding growler sales to breweries only. Heastings hopes lawmakers take it further.

“That won’t help us,” he said. “The brewery is small, there is no point of sale system, I am the only employee. I don’t have time to be filling growlers for customers.”

Charleston Brewing owner Ann Saville said lawmakers would be wise to act this session. Doing so helps promote a burgeoning industry in West Virginia.

“The whole point is to spread more interest about craft beer, which is still new in this state,” she said.

___

Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.charlestondailymail.com

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