Friday, October 21, 2011
Reusable 'growlers' grow popular for carrying draft beer
PORTLAND, Maine -- Ed McAleer likes his brown ale and IPA from a beer tap. But he doesn't need to be in a pub to get it.
When he has a hankering for draft beer at home, McAleer pours himself a cold one from a growler, a refillable 64-ounce glass jug he buys from Federal Jack's, a brewpub and restaurant in his hometown of Kennebunkport. If he's having friends over, he'll sometimes pick up two or three growlers filled with different types of beer so his guests can sample a variety.
Around the country, hundreds of brewpubs, breweries and even grocery stores are cashing in on the growing popularity of growlers, a term that dates back more than a century, to when people would carry fresh beer in buckets. In Nevada, they're offered at Great Basin Brewery -- and select supermarkets.
The origin of "growler" is unclear, whether it comes from the sound they emitted as the beer sloshed about or from the growling of a worker's hungry stomach before he enjoyed a beer with lunch.
"I like the ability to get a draft taste instead of a bottled beer. To me it's a fresher taste," said McAleer, 61, who is retired. "I also can't get some of the beers in bottles. And the price is good."
The jug-looking containers are catching on, said Julia Herz of the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo. Generally speaking, people buy growlers at brewpubs, where they're filled with beer and capped. After they're brought home, the beer will stay good for two to five days once opened.
Consumers like growlers because they're reusable and don't contribute to the waste stream, they're good for sharing with friends and the beer is less expensive than buying pints at a pub, Herz said. They're also nostalgic.
But it's the taste that keeps people coming back, Herz said on a recent day when she had a growler filled with 400-Pound Monkey, an English-style IPA made by Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colo., in her refrigerator at home.
"What's nice about the growler is you pour it into the glass, and that's the proper way to enjoy all that a beer has to offer for flavor and aroma," Herz said.
Growler sales in Maine have taken off since a law went into effect two years ago allowing pubs that make their own beer to sell growlers from behind the bar.
Previously, brewpubs needed a separate brewery store with a separate entrance to sell them.
Federal Jack's has sold growlers for a number of years, because it has a separate store. But since the law went into effect, the owner -- who also owns Shipyard Brewing in Portland -- has started selling them at his four other brewpubs, in Eliot, South Portland, Bangor and Topsham, where sales have been brisk.
Gritty McDuff's, a Portland-based beer company with three brewpubs, began selling growlers in May. In the first six months, the brewpubs filled about 1,350 growlers. Customers can buy their first beer-filled growler for $15.99 and get refills for $11.99.
"It's popular both with tourists and our regular customers," said Thomas Wilson, Gritty McDuff's marketing director.
In Pittsburgh, Scott Smith started the East End Brewing seven years ago, making small-batch beers that he sold in kegs to bars and restaurants. Now, growler sales make up about half his sales, with customers showing up at his brewery -- he doesn't have a brewpub -- at limited hours five days a week to get jugs full of Big Hop IPA, Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale and other varieties so they can drink his beer at home without having to buy a keg.
A couple of years ago, Smith was buying growlers in batches of 2,000 and they'd last about three months. He now buys 4,000 at a time, and they last about two months.
Customers also like the prices, Smith said. His growler bottles sell for $3 apiece and refills cost $10 to $15 each, so people can enjoy a pint of high-quality draft beer for about $4, he said.
Whole Foods Markets got into the growler act five years ago, when it began selling them at its Bowery Store in Manhattan, said John David Harmon, the specialty coordinator for Whole Foods' South region. The nationwide chain now has growler stations at about three dozen stores where customers can buy to-go draft beer.
Harmon likes to buy a growler now and again for himself -- with Mugshot IPA from Jailhouse Brewing in Hampton, Ga., being his latest fill. Customers like that the jugs seem retro in one sense and progressive in another.
"It's seems like a modern, new thing to do," he said. "But really it's old-fashioned."
Herz, with the Brewers Association, expects growler sales to continue growing as new technology develops that will give growlers a better seal to keep the beer fresh longer.
"It's a big part of the brewpub movement," she said.
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