Using the right growler means keeping your customers coming back for your great tasting brew.
Amber growlers offer protection against UV light that leads to skunky odor or taste.
So you want to serve growlers at your brewery or craft beer bar. Seems pretty simple. Buy some 32 oz and/or 64 oz growlers, and fill it from the tap, right? Not so fast. Just pouring beer into a vessel leaves it vulnerable to oxidation unless it’s consumed almost immediately. The CO2 that keeps the beer fresh and carbonated will quickly and easily leak out, leaving the customer with flat beer.
“I don’t want someone to take my beer home - or worse, ship it across the country - and it’s oxidized by the time it’s drunk,” Scott Wood, owner-brewer of The Courtyard Brewery nanobrewery in New Orleans.
“There are a couple problems with filling a growler directly through the tap and through a plastic hose, Mark Logan, owner of Second Line Brewing (also in New Orleans) says. “First, you’re putting a cold beverage that’s carbonated into a warm vessel, which causes the CO2 to gas off. Second, you’re losing a lot of product trying to get that filled.”
What materials can a growler be made of?
Beyond the typical glass growler, options include stainless steel, ceramic and plastic. While glass is the most common choice, stainless steel is becoming increasingly popular due to its portability, durability, and ability to keep beer fresh longer. Both ceramic and stainless steel completely protects against the beer being exposed to UV and becoming light struck, stale, and skunky. However, they are considerably more expensive, with stainless costing $25-30 per piece and ceramic/stoneware costing $65-80. Prices also vary with size, depending on the standard 32-ounce and 64-ounce sizes, gallon size (128-ounce), 16-ounce, or one- and two-liter sizes. No matter what you choose, each material has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Wood's material of choice? Hands down, amber-tinted glass growlers. Why? Plastic is oxygen permeable, he says, which leads to oxidation and less-than-tasty beer. He sells a 32-ounce, flip top style growler with the brewery’s logo, and will accept any growler as long as it’s not clear glass or plastic. Wood shops around between Egrandstand and Beer Growlers Direct to find the best deal at any given time, usually paying $3.00-6.00 per unit.
Logan disagrees. Not only is high-quality plastic more durable and portable than glass, he says, it’s cheaper, too - about $2.25-3.00 per unit. It increases the number of places a consumer can legally take the beer: public beaches or the streets of New Orleans - or any other city that permits open carry of alcohol in a plastic container.
And then there’s the crowler
Alongside the increase in using cans to package craft beer, the crowler has been spreading, due to its ease, price, and airtight seal. What is it? The crowler is a 32-oz can with a wider opening than the traditional jug growler, and is capped and sealed with a table top seamer. It doesn’t take up much more room than about one square foot, Andrew Godley of Parish Brewing says. He bought his system for about $6,000 from Dixie Canning Co., and says, “It’s easy to set up and robust. Aside from the beer and minimal labor to fill, the only costs associated with it are the cans which are about $0.50 each or less if bought in larger quantity.”
Meet the crowler: A 32-ounce can filled with fresh craft beer from the source.
Justin Boswell, owner of the soon-to-open Wayward Owl brewery says that he’s already invested in the system that is in operation at Oskar Blues Brewing (a brewery famous for its pioneering craft can use). Since they were the first to develop the technology, Boswell feels it’s best to go with the original crowler advocates.
Their system uses a machine made by Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry and sold exclusively through Oskar Blues as well as the containers themselves, manufactured by Ball Packaging (which owns the “crowler” name trademark). Oskar Blues purchases the crowlers in bulk from Bell and sells them to the smaller breweries who have invested in their system. Boswell says that the machine, along with the first order of crowlers and labels, costs around $5,000. “So, it's not the cheapest growler startup option but it has major merits for our market.”
From an environmental standpoint, crowlers are fully recyclable (although not reusable, like traditional growlers) and on the consumer level, require much less of an investment than a traditional growler jug.
A counter-pressure filling system
When Logan opened Second Line, he decided to invest in a counter-pressure filling system. Not only do these systems keep oxygen away from the beer while a growler is being filled, it requires very little space and fills containers quickly without foam or beer waste. Logan uses a single-unit Pegas system, purchased from GS Distributor Group for about $3,000. The system permits him to hook up four tap lines and fill airtight growlers pretty much right out of the box in about 90 seconds. It also works with wide variety of sizes (most frequently 32 oz and 64 oz) as well as narrow jug bottle openings versus some of the wider mouthed openings found in the newer stainless steel options. Systems similar to Logan's can be purchased from vendors like The Growler Station, Inc. or AC Beverage Inc.
A counter-pressure system requires little space and fills growlers quickly without foam.
John Evans, proprietor of the Ohio Tap Room runs five counter pressure fill units in his growler shop in Columbus, OH, which draw from 20 taps. When setting up his business, he says, “I had seen the CrafTap systems in use and was impressed with their efficiency and uniqueness - those were the main drivers at the time.” Other aspects that came into play were the price and the freshness of the beer being sold. His entire system cost about $10,000 to set up.
Abita Brewing in Louisiana has recently installed a new growler system: a Alfred Gruber dual growler counter fill unit. The Gruber system, from Austria, is more complex and more expensive (about $30,000) but fills growler at the touch of a button. Head of Brewing Operations Jaime Jurado notes that the brewery also invested in a three-step growler cleaning and sanitizing system from AC Beverage, for an additional $2,000 or so.
All you need is CO2
Wood dismisses the counter pressure fillers, saying that they’re a waste of money. “It’s a cool contraption, but totally unnecessary,” he says. All you need is to purge the growler with CO2, which he has in a tank in front of his taps. Wood plans to install a special CO2 tap to make it look less cluttered behind the bar, but according to him, that’s all you need. As far as loss is concerned, he claims he only loses about a half an ounce per growler fill. Simple, direct, cheap, and fast - four words music to any brewer’s ears. But only you can decide if it’s most effective and best for your brewery.
With so many options for systems as well as the container itself, breweries now have options that suit each budget and growler fill philosophy. The key considerations should be: portability, freshness, convenience, cost, and even branding (selling growlers with the name and logo of the brewery on it).
If you liked reading this article, you may also like: Despite Increasing Popularity, the Debate Over Cans Rages On.