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Monday, Feb. 25, 2013

The Riverwest Filling Station Makes Growlers Legal

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While living in Athens, Ga., Bryan Atinsky took advantage of the many pubs offering growlers, 64-ounce jugs of beer filled fresh from the tap, then sealed to go. Growlers were such a convenient way of sampling and sharing different beers at home (including rare ones that weren’t always available in bottles) that, since relocating to Milwaukee, Atinsky wondered why they didn’t have more of a presence here. It turns out there was a reason for that: They were illegal under a law prohibiting the sale of refilled bottles of alcohol. Though the law exempted brew pubs selling their own beer, third-party retailers were out of luck.

That realization likely came as a shock to a couple of specialty grocery stores that had been offering growlers anyway. It certainly did to Atinsky who, along with co-owners Allen and Kari Church, had begun construction on a growler bar called the Riverwest Filling Station at 701 E. Keefe, in the former Albanese’s Italian Restaurant building. “I was taken aback,” Atinsky said. “Retail growlers were going to be one of the three foundations of the business, along with the restaurant and the bar.”

Atinsky realized, however, that while growlers violated the letter of the city law—which had been written to prevent devious retailers from bottling cheap liquor and selling it as the expensive stuff—it didn’t violate the spirit. Working with Ald. Nik Kovac, Atinsky successfully petitioned the city to change the wording of the ordinance last year.

Now that they’ve been legalized, more bars will likely begin offering growlers, as Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar began doing this winter. It remains to be seen how far they’ll catch on, though. Atkinsky says that at the Riverwest Filling Station, which opened in January, the early response to growlers has been enthusiastic, but it has come mostly from diehard beer aficionados.

“Right now the real craft beer drinkers know about growlers, but the general public doesn’t know about them yet,” he said. “That could change as more people learn about them, though. Instead of buying a six-pack from the liquor store, you can get craft beer on tap that you can’t get in bottles. Beer tastes different when you get it on tap. It’s fresher. It’s got different carbonation. A lot of breweries make two versions of their beers, one for bottles, one for tap, so these are a great way to experience different beers.”
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