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Moon River, growler than a mile
‘The original to-go cup’ finally able to be sold at Bay Street brewpub

BACK in the day before bottles and cans were an option, growlers were how a beer drinker would take home their favorite beverage. They were the original to-go cup.

Growlers are glass or metal bottles that you can take to your local watering hole for a fill up to take on the go. Drink, clean the bottle and it’s ready for another fill.

Growlers have become an enticing, eco-friendly, option for brewpubs and breweries that don’t bottle their beer or want to offer beer that is not otherwise economical to bottle.

Until 2013 growlers in Savannah were not available for use from any source. Starting that year breweries and retail beer locations were allowed to sell and fill 32 and 64 oz. growlers. Local breweries, Hops and Barley, some Parker’s locations and Whole Foods all jumped into growlers giving Savannah beer drinkers a wider variety of craft beer options.

Now keg-only and some limited release beers were available for the first time in Savannah to be enjoyed at home and not just at a bar or restaurant. There were some, however, that were largely left out in the cold.

Brewpubs in Georgia, like Savannah’s own Moon River, have not been able to send home growlers from the pubs. These organizations have relied on retailers to sell their beers for them.

This meant that in order to enjoy a beer at home from Moon River, who does not bottle their beer, you had to buy a whole keg from a retailer or hope they carried the Moon River beer for growler fills. That is until now.

Starting this month Moon River can offer growler fills onsite, marking the first time any brewpub in Georgia has that option. I spoke with Moon River co-owner and brewmaster John Pinkerton about this exciting first in Georgia craft beer.

He tells me that despite many changes in Georgia beer laws this development did not require a law change.

“Georgia Brewpubs have been pushing for growlers for years. After the recent legislative snafu, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild was continuing its pursuit of Code changes which would allow bona fide direct retail for all Georgia brewers:  beer by the glass and package beer to-go. The Guild’s plan for legislation this year was put on hold for the 2016 legislative session,” Pinkerton says.

“Fortunately, after some discussions between the Guild and the Department of Revenue, it became apparent that the Georgia State Revenue Commissioner, Lynne Riley, didn’t see any need to change the Code for brewpubs to be selling Growlers,” he continues.

“So, with the Commissioner’s blessing, Moon River needed to be certain that we wouldn’t run afoul of any existing Savannah Ordinances.  Meeting with Savannah’s Revenue Director, Cindy Landolt and her advisors, it was agreed that there was nothing in the Ordinances preventing a brewpub from selling growlers. No laws or rules have actually changed, but now we can sell Growlers... go figure.  I am thankful,” says Pinkerton.

Because the addition of growlers came about abruptly, Moon River does not currently have its own branded logo growlers but they are on the way within the month. In the meantime, and in a show of the spirit of cooperation so often seen in the craft beer scene, Southern Barrel Brewing is providing growlers for Moon River.

“They’re just good folks who were willing to sell us some of their growlers to get started,” Pinkerton says. “They make excellent beer in a really nice facility about 20 minutes from Savannah, over in Bluffton, South Carolina. Serving our beer in their branded glassware gives us an opportunity to suggest people go and check them out.”

For now Moon River is limiting growler fills to their year round lineup, but that will change soon.

“With St. Patrick’s Day behind us and our own Moon River branded glass ware on the way, we will likely make all ten of our beers available soon,” Pinkerton says.

To lessen the sting of direct to market Moon River growlers on local retailers Pinkerton tells me “we are pricing ourselves a bit higher than market price.”

However Moon River growlers will be affordable.

“For our regular beers we are charging $15 for 64 ounces of our beer and a $5 deposit for the branded, amber glass jug. To streamline the transaction we only fill the Southern Barrel glassware and obviously, our own when they arrive. This allows us to swap out your empty jug with a fresh, clean one, every time you buy a growler fill,” Pinkerton says.

“Our customers want Growlers. They’ve been asking us now for seventeen years.  Local Savannah folks and tourists alike, have enjoyed the right to buy brewery fresh beer all over the country.  It only makes sense that you can do it in Georgia as well,” Pinkerton concludes.

Since adding growlers to the menu earlier this month, brewpubs in Alpharetta have moved to have ordinances changed to allow growlers but Moon River is the first. Local beer is good beer and good for the Savannah economy. Drop by Moon River Brewing for a bite to eat and take home a growler.