On the surface, growlers might seem uninteresting – merely a utilitarian apparatus designed to transport small amounts of draft beer from here to there. End. Of. Story.
But if that were the case we wouldn't be seeing such an explosion of usage. Three years ago, growlers were strictly the province of craft beer geeks, who used the 64-ounce glass vessels to bring home some fresh-brewed suds from the local microbrewery. Today, shoppers at Whole Foods pop just-filled growlers of IPA into their carts alongside the cage-free eggs.
Craft Beer at the Bar – To Go
"The growler trend is riding the wave of the craft beer trend," explains Adam Fleischer, owner of the Wine Spot (2271 Lee Rd., 216-342-3623, thewinespotonline.com) in Cleveland Heights. "We've seen a huge growth in our growler business. People love the idea of being able to grab a growler of great, fresh draft beer and take it home."
The Wine Spot opened two years ago strictly as a bottled beer and wine shop, but later added an eight-tap draft beer system to be able to fill and sell growlers to go. In the next couple weeks, the store will add four more tap handles, bringing the number of draft selections up to a dozen.
Growlers do more than simply replace the can or six-pack; when it comes to many of today's most exciting craft releases, the growler is the only way a drinker can enjoy those selections outside a bar setting.
"The cool thing about the craft beer phenomenon right now is there are all of these incredibly delicious new beers coming onto the market each day," says Fleischer. "But a lot of these breweries are dispensing these beers only in kegs."
Many small craft breweries can't afford a bottling production line, and even some of the larger craft breweries choose only to keg their seasonals, experimentals or other small-batch runs rather than canning or bottling them.
"Growlers afford your customers access to all of these great beers without having to go to a bar," he notes.
Try Before You Buy
One of the local pioneers of the growler trend is World Wine and Liquor (8760 Mentor Ave., 440-255-1311, worldwinesohio.com) in Mentor, a 9,000-square-foot beer, wine and booze emporium. Three years ago, owner Alan Iacofano installed an eight-tap draft beer system, but quickly upped that number to 11. Not long after that he scrapped the whole set-up and installed an 18-tap system.
"Our craft beer sales over the past three years have just gone through the roof," says Brendan Iacofano, Alan's son who oversees the beer department. "A lot of our beer distributors tell us that we're their No. 1 bar account even though we're not a traditional bar."
Because the beer is on tap, customers can pay 50 cents for a 2-ounce sample before committing to any purchase, unlike with canned or bottled beer.
"A lot of these craft beers are really expensive," Iacofano says. "Customers are more comfortable spending higher amounts of money because they tasted the beer before buying it. That in turn has generated more revenue for the store."
Abiding by the store motto of "no crap on tap," World Wine offers an ever-changing selection of craft beers from around the country. There are always five or six IPAs on tap, plus seasonal beers from some of the nation's best craft breweries. Focus isn't placed on local beers that are "pretty readily available" elsewhere, says Iacofano.
Nuts and Bolts
Growlers most commonly are 64-ounce resealable glass jugs, though smaller half-growlers — often called howlers — are becoming more popular. They're filled from normal draft beer taps, but a hose that extends from the tap faucet to the bottom of the growler reduces foam and oxidation when filling.
Depending on the beer, a 64-ounce growler can cost from $10 up to $19 for a double IPA or seasonal stout —the equivalent of $2.50 to $4.75 per pint. Unopened in the fridge, the growler will keep the beer fresh for about a week. All the beer should be consumed within a day or two from opening. For easy cleaning, immediately rinse out the growler with hot soapy water when drained.
Most places that fill growlers also sell them for around $3.99. Because the same vessel is used by the consumer over and over, growlers are an eco-friendly option to cans and bottles. And while we've always been told that brown glass is best when it comes to beer, Iacofano recommends going with clear growlers because they're easier to spot dirt when cleaning.