By: Cheryl Gray
Portable beer containers earn their reputation not only by how convenient they are to transport but also by how well they protect the beer inside. In the age of COVID-19, these portable options have also become a lifeline for craft breweries whose businesses have turned to beer-to-go sales to survive.
The growler has been around since the late 1800s when beer was transported from saloons in a rickety metal pail with a not-so-secure lid. Fast forward to 1989, and the year historians say that Charles Otto, founder of Grand Teton Brewing in Wyoming, introduced the half-gallon glass growlers we see most commonly today. Since Otto’s reinvention, the growler has come a long way. Many 21st-century growlers have little resemblance to their predecessors.
However, the demand from consumers remains the same. Beer lovers want their favorite craft brew to stay cold, fresh and ready-to-pour in a container that can go anywhere.
Craft Master Growlers
John Burns knows a thing or two about the creativity and technology required for manufacturing the perfect growler for beer lovers on-the-go. He is CEO of Source Management Limited, the 22-year old parent company of Craft Master Growlers, Inc., based in Tacoma, Washington.
Burns told Beverage Master Magazine that craft breweries can truly benefit by marketing products through the use of growlers. This is especially true for onsite brewing operations that don’t distribute their beer to wide areas. Pressurized growlers can help unlock a key market for those breweries because these growlers bring the convenience, portability and attributes of kegs down to an individual level.
“The craft beer industry is a dynamic industry with constant innovations,” he said. “But they need to get their product out to the public. There is nothing like a fresh beer direct at the brewery or brewpub, but you are limited to customers who visit your establishment. Growlers have a high demand and are encouraged by the industry because it allows more people to enjoy the breweries.”
While growlers are becoming more widely used, Burns said not all produce the same results. He compared glass and insulated-style growlers to his products.
“Unfortunately, the most widely used growlers–glass growlers–have a very limited shelf life. If not consumed within hours of filling, the beer changes. The experience is diminished,” said Burns. “A thermos-style growler is slightly better, keeping the beer cold for a certain period of time. But with Craft Master Growler’s pressurized systems, brewery customers can give a true, just-poured-by-the-brewery experience in any location and on their own schedule. By preserving the carbonation, the beer stays fresh, one glass at a time, for a period of weeks.”
Craft Master has a variety of growlers, kegs and portable containers available for industrial and consumer use. They use only food-grade materials in production, an important factor, Burns said, because it protects the beer’s flavor integrity. Among the materials used is SUS304, food-grade stainless steel that is standard in commercial kitchens and breweries.
“We currently sell two lines, Craft Master CO2, a heavy-duty, high-end line of pressurized growlers for hotel/restaurant, breweries/brewpubs, home bar and homebrewers. These come in the legal filling sizes of 64 ounces and 128 ounces,” he said. “We also sell a lightweight, portable growler, ‘Growlveller,’ which comes in various finishes and is a 64-ounce capacity.”
Burns, who built Craft Master by keeping pace with new technology and developing innovative products, shared the marketing logic behind its earliest innovations.
“Our first step was to create a square growler. This is very important for commercial establishments where refrigeration space and counter space is at a premium. The nature of metal fabrication is such that pressing a round container is straight forward, but to create a square is technically a lot more difficult.
“Growlers are put into residential refrigerators, but round containers take up too much space. The square enables the growler to be placed, for example, in a refrigerator door. And we created a tap which can swivel 180 degrees.”
Craft Master is currently developing integrated caps with PSI dials that perform functions such as pressurizing, maintaining safety, regulating CO2 and controlling pressure release. The company is also responsible for creating the Perfect Head USB pump. This patented system uses ultrasound to stimulate the release of CO2 into the beer and create a perfect head.
Tap on-the-go with a flair for style is the signature mark of GrowlerWerks. The Portland, Oregon firm enjoys the benefit of a team of engineers and product design experts whose focus is to provide consumers with unique and functional products. Its flagship growler is the ProSeries uKeg. This product’s features include an internal variable pressure CO2 system, a sight tube to check beer levels, a pressure gauge to dial in the perfect carbonation and a pour tap for tapping off beer when and where the consumer wants it. Fiona Berry is President of GrowlerWerks Canada, the company’s Canadian distributor.
“Craft breweries want to create a buzz about their products, so they should want their beer being served in ultimate condition. A growler from GrowlerWerks does that job exceptionally well,” she said. “Our growlers have been designed to serve craft beer the way the brewer intended. Because of the variable pressure regulator cap, you can serve your craft beer exactly as it would be from the brewery’s tap line.”
GrowlerWerks products come in a standard 64-ounce size and a double-sized 128-ounce version and feature a stainless steel tank and brass fittings. For carbonation, the growlers use eight and 16-gram food-grade carbon dioxide cartridges that provide head pressure in the growler. The regulator cap is made mostly from plastic, silicone seals.
Aside from functionality, GrowlerWerks is big on appearance. “The brass fittings on our growlers give it a stylish appearance that attracts a lot of attention when seen going out for fills,” Berry said. “Our clients all comment on how many people ask questions and start up conversations with them because of their growler. It is a very social item.” So much so, she added, that GrowlerWerks is branching out with new products for new markets.
“Our line of growler products has expanded into nitro cold brew coffee. You can now brew and serve an excellent cup of nitro coffee with that signature cascade of bubbles from your own home,” she said. “Our recently released GO growler is designed for the outdoor enthusiast. It has a simple and rugged design yet delivers all the functionality of the Pro Series uKeg. We will be releasing a GO 128 in November. We have just signed a deal with the NHL to apply team logos on our GO growlers.”
In addition to marketing strategies, GrowlerWerks also considers itself a competitor when it comes to innovation. Berry pointed to one key component that she believes is superior to others on the market.
“I think our most innovative accomplishment is our variable pressure regulator cap. It allows for stylish integration of CO2. Other pressurized growlers on the market have their CO2 cylinders attached externally to the growler.”
For consumers who already own a non-pressurized growler and want to upgrade, TrailKeg provides some options. The Lexington, Kentucky-based company offers its brand of growlers as well as the TrailKeg Lid Package, a conversion kit that makes it possible to transform an existing non-pressurized growler into a pressurized one. TrailKeg markets its growlers for more than craft beer.
The company promotes its growlers for multiple uses, including creating carbonated sodas, draft cocktails, seltzers, nitro coffees and kombucha. Sold in half- and one-gallon versions, TrailKeg growlers are double-wall, vacuum-insulated containers designed to keep beer and other drinks cold for 24 hours and hot beverages, such as coffee, hot for 12 hours.
For bigger options in portability, there are always kegs. In Pottstown, Pennsylvania, American Keg manufactures and supplies stainless steel kegs for the craft brewing industry. According to the company, it is the only steel beer keg manufacturer in the United States. Its team touts the use of domestically sourced AISI 304 stainless steel to produce 1/2bbl and 1/6bbl kegs. American Keg also offers custom embossing and silk screen printing on orders, which craft breweries find cuts down on keg loss.
No matter whether the container is a keg, growler or the like, all breweries have to factor in return, refill and exchange policies that are governed by state and local laws. Now that COVID-19 has become part of the business climate for beverage service nationwide, many breweries have incorporated multiple safeguards, including curbside growler fill-ups and suspension of container exchanges. The aim, naturally, is to protect their employees and customers.
In doing so, many breweries continue to promote their products by drawing on the convenience of growlers, kegs and other portable containers that allow consumers to enjoy a tap fresh, chilled craft beer experience–exactly what the brewer had in mind.