Enter the Crowler
All photos by Kevin Gibson.
I have probably six or seven glass growlers in my kitchen from various breweries. I typically use them one at a time, but if I forget to take one with me and I decide I want some fresh draft beer for later, well, I have to plunk down five bucks for a new one.
And so my collection grows. But if the Ball Corporation and Oskar Blues Brewery of North Carolina have created what they think they’ve created, look out! We reported recently on the SYNEK System, an alternative to the old growler, and now we have the Crowler.
What is a Crowler? It’s basically just a can, with one key exception – it is a can that can be sealed on the spot by a bartender, ensuring the beer will stay fresher longer. If a growler gives you two, maybe three days of relative freshness, you can count on the Crowler for double that. Or more.
In fact, theoretically, it could last for weeks or months. One brewer I spoke with said Oskar Blues has tested Crowlers for up to a month and found they retain the beer’s flavor and carbonation.
So, say your favorite brewery doesn’t can or bottle its products, or has a special seasonal brew that can’t be had in a can or bottle. Normally, you have to buy a growler of it and make sure you drink it quickly. But if you buy a couple of Crowlers of the brew, you can revisit it in a week. Or two.
This is brilliant.
“We get off on pushing the limits, doing things differently,” Oskar Blues’ Jeremy Rudolf said in a press release, “and the Crowler is another step of innovation to take advantage of what the can package has to offer from behind the bar. More beer options in more cans, we’re working on creating one big glasshole.”
So far, only a handful of breweries have caught on to the new Crowler system, which was unveiled in the spring at the national Craft Beer Conference. One of those is West Sixth Brewing of Lexington, Ky. The folks in Bourbon Country are hooked.
Calling the Crowler system “game changing,” West Sixth co-owner Ben Self said, “It's been amazing –sales have been much higher than expected, for sure.”
I myself purchased two Crowlers of West Sixth beer, waiting two days to drink one and four days for the other. The freshness and flavor were unchanged, as far as I could tell.
“Theoretically, it should never go flat,” Self said. “Oskar Blues has tested freshness for up to a month without any noticeable decrease in flavor.”
Self said bartenders purge the cans with CO2 to ensure maximum freshness, and then fill the can directly from the tap.
“Once they're full,” he continued, “we make sure there is foam on the top of the can so that there is little to no oxygen, and then there is a seamer that sits behind the bar – so the bartender can seam the cans to order. “
The bartender then writes on the side of the can what is inside and the date canned, and you’re good to go. The price point for a Crowler is higher by the ounce – for instance, at West Sixth, a growler refill (64 ounces) is $11, while a 32-ounce Crowler costs $8.
The advantages, however, are many. Cans are more portable, are welcome in places like public swimming pools where glass is not, and they aren’t prone to contamination, which spoils the beer’s flavor. Crowlers also don’t allow light in, another beer killer.
And when you’re done, you don’t have to wash the growler and tote it back and forth to the brewery – you just recycle the can and go on with your life.
After just a couple of weeks using Crowlers, Self believes the concept will stick – and grow. Could it, in fact, signal the death of the traditional glass growler?
“Absolutely,” he said. “Everyone loves the glass growlers because they're reusable, but I know many people who have a box of growlers at home because they never remember to bring them in and have to buy a new one. Crowlers keep the beer fresher, are a better size, and are easier for the beer drinker to deal with, so I see every brewery having one of them eventually.”
Which means that a lot of people, including myself, will wind up with some really fancy water jugs in our cupboards.