Crowler being seamed on site.
Growler fill stations, a bar squeezed into an unassuming location, changed the face of the Central Oregon craft beer scene in 2012 when they rose to prominence after the Growler Guys opened their first location on Highway 20. Consumers could go fill up their gas tank or grab groceries, adding a 64-ounce fill of their favorite local or regional beer to the list without inconveniencing the errand.
With the success of Growler fill stations came innovators. First, the idea to reduce the growler to a 32-ounce, personal size came into play. Then accessories followed – a stand to keep your growler from rolling around in the car, a system that injects carbon dioxide into the glass growler to keep it from going flat between dinners, and neoprene sleeves to protect beer from the sun and keep the beverage cold. Soon, other vessels stormed the market made of stainless steel and double wall insulated, like local companies Drink Tanks and Hydroflask, and improved on their technologies within months of launching projects.
Craft beer has always been about innovation and trends supporting the consumers’ chase for the best beer possible. Now, the industry has introduced another possible game-changer: The Crowler.
“I definitely think that Crowlers will continue to grow and out sell glass growlers,” said Kizer Couch, co-owner of the Growler Guys. “Crowlers really are the perfect craft beer package and the perfect size for any activity you would want to take them to.”
Crowler, a mash-up of “Can” and “Growler”, is a 32-ounce can that is filled and sealed on site at the Growler Guys’ locations. Cans are increasing in popularity among craft brewers, with Central Oregon home to three canning breweries, with a fourth on its way. Couch said he saw the writing on the wall and looked into the technology.
Cari filling the crowler
“Customer response to the Crowler can has been overwhelmingly positive,” Couch said. “Customers are finding the cans easier to carry with them to whatever fun activity they are going to.”
The Crowler was invented by Oskar Blues Brewing Company in Boulder, Co. with Ball Packaging Products. Oskar Blues, the craft canning pioneers, found that customers would come in with glass growlers and, considering no Oskar Blues beers are distributed in bottles, thought there could be a different way to get fresh beer to local consumers.
“We get off on pushing the limits and doing things differently” said Jeremy Rudolf, co-creator of the Crowler at Oskar Blues, on the press release for the Crowler. “The Crowler is another step of innovation to take advantage of what the can package has to offer from behind the bar.”
The company said they were noticing customers were coming in with dirty glass growler for refill, which alters the flavor of the fresh beer. Also, the twist-on cap will eventually leak carbonation, leaving the consumer with oxidized, flat beer.
The Crowler was made to fix those problems. The package cannot be reused – but rather is made from over 60% post-consumer product and is infinitely recyclable — so the chances for contamination is near impossible. The seamer is the same machine used on professional canning lines, leaving the chances of carbonation leak also very low. Most of all, with the success of hoppy beers in the Pacific Northwest, no sunlight can get through the aluminum can, which protects fragile hop compounds from getting skunky.
The process is quick, as well. After the customer picks his or her beer from the lineup at The Growler Guys, the educated server grabs an empty can, rinses it, purges it with CO2, fills it from the bottom up, tops it with a lid and seams it. The last step is writing the beer’s name on the can, and then cashing out: an extra $1 from the Crowler compared to 32-ounce reusable fills.
The Crowler is filled like a regular growler, but seamed with a foam cap for less chance of oxidation.
“We are handling and serving the best, hand crafted beer in the world,” Couch said. “So, we take it pretty seriously and have all of our employees MBAA (Master Brewer Association of Americas) and/or Cicerone trained to ensure that we are serving that beer the way that the brewers intended.”
Besides the quality and convienece of the package, Couch feels a huge advantage to the Crowler system is packaging beers that have never been packaged before.
“We are canning RPM before Boneyard is,” he said. “People in Washington are coming down and grabbing three-packs of Boneyard or Barley Browns Pallet Jack to take back home with them.”
And, after the initial roll-out of the system, Couch said he gave a Boneyard-loyal customer a Crowler of RPM to save, testing the storage quality.
“He was able to hold on to it for 8 weeks,” Couch said. “I’m not sure why or how anyone could hold beer in their fridge for that long, but he said he opened it and it tasted the exact same.”
Crowler systems are now in action at both of the Bend Growler Guys locations, as well as the Eugene location. Four more on order for a few of the the 10 stores spanning Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
For more information, visit www.thegrowlerguys.com