It used to be that collecting growlers from all of your favorite breweries was a fun thing to do. In fact, I had a shelf dedicated to all of my favorite breweries. Some states only allow breweries to fill growlers from their specific brewery, therefore everyone had a collection of growlers from their chosen breweries.
Truth be told, growlers are not the best packaging for beer. They are filled on demand by the taproom staff and if the taproom staff is not experienced, they can add oxygen to the beer and damage it very quickly. It used to be that growlers came in 64 ounces. That is a lot of beer to drink at one time (unless you have help), so a lot of beer went bad waiting for the growler to be emptied.
Enter the Crowler
The industry was ripe for change; enter the crowler. The first time that I saw a crowler was at the 2015 Portland Craft Brewer’s Conference at which Oscar Blues hosted a party with crowlers. They looked like oversized beer cans and look very strange to me. Over the next couple of years, I saw crowlers pop up in taprooms across the country. The cost of the crowler machine varies, but with all of the bells and whistles, the total cost is below $10,000. This makes it affordable to even the smallest brewery. At first, they were only used for on-demand fills, but then, I began to see “crowler stores” pop up with ready-filled crowlers for immediate pick up. It is a far more efficient way to fill crowlers and you have them at the ready when a customer wants to take one home. The crowler store works very well as part of the merchandise store. It frees up the beertenders to keep serving pints to customers while specific staff can be trained to become experts in filling crowlers.
Crowlers Come in Many Sizes
There are specific advantages to crowlers over growlers. First, there is a better seal which minimizes the amount of oxygen in the beer. Crowlers come in many sizes, but the most common size is a 32oz can. That is half of the old 64oz growler and much easier to finish in one sitting. I am now hearing about the possibility of 16oz and 19.2oz sizes, which is very interesting to me. This would lower the price point and make it easier and easier to finish in one sitting.
The Difference Between a Crowler and Canned Beer
If you are already canning beer, why bother with a crowler machine? The answer is simple. Some states don’t allow selling of packaged beer in the taproom. The container must be filled in the taproom in order to qualify. The crowler allows you to package beer that wasn’t canned. Plus, canned beer takes a lot of time and preparation. You must obtain label approval and print labels and/or cans before canning the beer. A lot of taproom beer is a one-off specialty, so it wouldn’t make sense to go to the trouble of label approval for one kettle fill.
Growlers Go MIA
It was almost overnight in 2017 when I saw breweries stop selling growlers and begin to promote crowlers. Just like the switch from bottles to cans, the combination of customer preference and brewery preference lead to growlers disappearing from brewery shelves. Some breweries keep the growlers on hand for field sales tastings (it is a good way to transport a medium amount of beer) and for the convenience of their brand ambassadors and loyal customers. With all of the crowler’s advantages, I wouldn’t expect a growler return any time soon.