Remember just a few short years ago when growlers were the topic du jour in craft beer circles? You’re familiar with them by now: Refillable glass containers — usually holding 64 ounces — that enabled ale aficionados to take keg-only beers to go.
Well, move over growlers — there’s a new sheriff in town: crowlers.
That’s no typo, simply an amalgamation of “cans” and “growlers.” Think 32-ounce oversized aluminum cans and you’ll have the right idea.
While it’s doubtful crowlers will fully replace their glass predecessors, they’re certainly poised to capture some serious market share.
Until recently, legal gray area kept crowlers largely within the purview of breweries. However, thanks to the recent signing of Senate Bill 155 (aka “the Brunch Bill,” an omnibus bill which covered much more than just brunch), expect them to start going mainstream.
Now, that’s not to say your local watering hole can immediately start crowler-filling they way they currently handle growlers. First, you need a seamer.
The seamers look like an cross between a can opener and a KitchenAid mixer.
“It was an investment,” said Jason Glunt, co-owner of Salud Bottle Shop. Without digging up his invoice, he estimates his crowler-seaming machine ran him $3,000. “It wasn’t a cheap machine.”
Strictly from a container-cost perspective, the use-once-and-recycle aluminum cans are quite a cost-saver compared to their glass counterparts. Combined costs for can, lid, and label are about $1, and retailers simply build that cost into their crowler pricing. Growler costs range from $5 to $10.
“We had to sell them for way too much money, I felt,” said Glunt. Storage constraints kept his order sizes small, leading to higher unit costs plus the higher costs of shipping glass instead of aluminum.
Then, there’s the issue of sanitation.
“I know for a 100 percent fact these are brand-new cans, that beer has not gone into (them),” said Eric Mitchell of Heist Brewery. He arguably has more experience with crowlers than anyone else in Charlotte. Heist filled 48,000 of them in just the past 18 months.
Heist was growler-only before transitioning to filling both crowlers and growlers. Eventually, they simply stopped ordering new growlers in an attempt to make the jump to crowler-only less painful. Previous growler purchases were honored for a six-month grace period, but the brewery is now aluminum-only.
“For me, there was no downside to (the switch) other than old habits die hard,” Mitchell said.
Heist’s relationship with their crowler seamer has been anything but smooth sailing, and could resemble more of a cautionary tale. For months, crowler availability was spotty due to mechanical issues that resulted in lids literally popping off the cans. When a myriad of on-site fixes couldn’t solve the issue, the entire seamer was sent back to the manufacturer for repairs; it’s been recently returned to service.
Despite all the issues, Mitchell remains decidedly pro-crowler.
“Overall, it’s been awesome,” he said. “I like those things so much more than growlers. You can take (crowlers) anywhere.”
Maintenance issues aside, they’re “that happy medium, in my opinion, where you can drink an entire crowler in one sitting,” Mitchell said.
Added Glunt, “I love that we’re doing it. I’m a big proponent, and I recommend it for anyone.”
Photos: Jonathan Wells