Packaging Profiles: The Growler
For most states in the nation, 64 oz. reusable glass containers have become a normal option for packaged beer sales. Although conceived of in its current form in the late 1980’s, the growler concept is not new. Before the widespread availability of glass and well before canned beer, consumers were bringing lidded metal pails to saloons and brewpubs for lunchtime worker consumption or evening family drinking. To-go beer fresh from the taps has undoubtedly been a customer desire basically since breweries existed. In recent years, growler sales have flourished in the US, leading to growler sections in some supermarket coolers and entire businesses based solely upon filling growlers.
In the innovative and capitalist spirit, new and different growler designs are also popping up all over. Options vary from the standard amber glass container to newer lightweight stainless steel versions and beyond–the Portland Growler Company even makes a handcrafted ceramic growler with a porcelain flip-top closure. Not sure you could drink 64 oz. alone (if you try hard enough, anything is possible), or maybe a full half-gallon won’t fit in your purse, pannier, or mini-fridge? Cool, just grab a mini-growler, a 32 oz. growlette. You certainly have options.
Many breweries use growlers as promotional endeavors with membership perks much like a mug clubs. Seattle’s NW Peaks Brewery initially sold its beer to thirsty friends and family as part of a growler subscription program before expanding to a larger space. Mission Brewery in San Diego offers exclusive access and first tastes of new releases throughout the year for its growler club members. Ithaca Beer Co. in New York distributes growler punch cards where your 13th fill is free, much like a cafe or donut shop. These are all great options for enthusiastic beer drinkers, especially considering that growler fills are typically cheaper than buying either bottles, cans, or pints at the bar. The brewery benefits as well–no washing and storing pint glasses, and little to no packaging equipment or supplies (like a bottling line, adhesive labels, etc.). Growlers are reusable, recyclable, and generate free advertising. Breweries want to get their product into consumers’ glasses as fresh and faithful to their product as possible.
Businesses like The Growl Store, a growler-only taproom and store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle are also finding healthy niches in the industry. Growl showcases 44 taps of beer sourced from a range of 100 miles or less. Customers use the shop essentially as a hub for discovering new breweries’ beers or for experiencing hard to find, small-batch products that co-owner Loren Klabunde helps curate. I visited the store right before the kickoff party for Seattle Beer Week 2016 and they were playing host to Georgetown Brewing Company. Georgetown is notable for their keg-only model of distribution, currently the largest brewery in the country with this model. It’s clear that they benefit from local growler fill stations and stores like Growl.
You’re never far from craft beer in Seattle, but if you wanted the additional convenience of filling a growler while you waited for a prescription or picked up a few rolls of toilet paper, Bartell Drugs (the oldest family-owned drugstore in the country) has jumped at the opportunity to bring in more customers by playing host to local taps. Their store in the South Lake Union area of Seattle sells a huge amount of beer, likely a result of its proximity to the main Amazon campus and the dense Belltown neighborhood. It’s not often that I just happen to have an empty growler in my bag when running errands, though I’m considering changing my ways. Regardless, it’s a delicious testament to how beer has saturated the local economy. Wherever you fill your growler–drugstore, tap-room, growler-filling store or brewery, give yourself a pat on the back and a healthy pour for supporting local beer and using sustainable packaging. Win, win.