The Case of the Missing Growler Station

Posted: May 16, 2015 in Beer, Business of Beer, Craft Beer, General
Tags: , , , , , ,
So, I’ve been missing from the Interwebs… again. Mainly because I wrapped up a 5,500 mile round trip drive from California to Georgia a couple weeks ago. That was a great time, which happened to suck the life out of my truck. Sorry, truck.

I have also been missing because not 8 hours after said trip did I separate my radius and ulna from my humorous humerus. Either way, it was not funny. And for those who have been patella deep in Brewers Association books instead of remembering the Bones song, I dislocated my elbow. The latter reference was to the knee. You’re welcome.

Now back to beer.

*****Caution: SINGLE-HANDED-TYPING RANT AHEAD*****

Speaking of Georgia, while I was there I had my first experience with a growler filling station. At Whole Foods. It was AMAZING. There I am looking for good cheese when I say to myself,  “Maybe I’ll have a beer tonight, too.” So I walk my happy little self to the cold bottles and find the selection great, but the indecision greater. Then a friend jokingly says, “Hey, maybe you should get a jug!” I look to where he’s pointing, and there it is! A beautiful, chrome five-faucet system perfectly placed between the wine/beer aisle and the bakery. Cold, kegged beer waiting in front of me. Warm, toasty goodness filling the air. Overly priced, one-time-purchase cheese in hand. It was a great moment in my life. Needless to say, I walked out with two 64 oz. growlers of Bell’s Oberon, which were eventually consumed within the following 48 hours.

That next weekend I decided I would like to try beers more local to the Georgia-Lina area (That’s Georgia-Carolina, by the way). A quick Yelp and Google search, and I find the nearest growler station, Tip Top Taps. I took my Whole Foods growlers in and added one of Tip Top Tap’s growlers to my collection. They flushed my growlers with CO2, and I walked out with a few keg-fresh gallons of local goodness. After I left Georgia, I drove into Texas and did the same thing for some DFW growlers.

Some of you reading this may be thinking, “Cool story, guy, but I get my growlers filled all the time.” Well, this is where the rant begins. According to the Brewers Association,  Georgia ranks 24th in the nation with 40 craft breweries; I found at least 3 non-brewery/retail establishments within a 10 mile radius that fill growlers. Texas ranks 8th with 117 craft breweries. Retail growler filling stations were quite common there as well. Arizona,  Florida,  New York,  and of course Oregon and Washington, all allow retailers to fill growlers. California ranks 1st in the U.S. with 431 breweries and counting. There are 1.6 breweries per Capita (100,000 21+ adults) in California. Guess where it is NOT legal for retail growler filling? And California is not alone!

Now, I get it… why have Whole Foods or independent tap houses fill growlers when I can throw a rock in any given direction and hit a brewery, which IS allowed to fill growlers (with certain guidelines, of course). The beer is fresh. The kegs are controlled. And those filling the growlers will usually know the beer almost as much as the brewers. I’ve heard some argue that breweries lose control of the product once it leaves their doors. I’ve heard others attribute a retailer’s cleanliness (or lack thereof) to a less than satisfactory experience for consumers. And I’ve had conversations with a few who believe the right to sell growlers of beer should stay with the brewers and breweries.

I certainly admire and respect the work done by the growing number of brewers and the breweries they work in. It takes a tremendous amount of work to create the fantastic product that we’ve all grown to know and love. It’s no easy feat to transform water, malt, hops, and yeast into an 8% ABV ale sought after by tens of thousands. I would never ask that the hard work done be compromised for the sake of the consumer or the almighty U.S. dollar. Still, I don’t understand the arguments against the “growler house.”

Sure, breweries have less control of the product. But what about when it’s sent around the nation in bottles? Maybe the local bottle shop will keep them in cold storage and maintain them properly. Will the local convenience store or mom and pop adult beverage store do the same? How does risk in the treatment of bottles differ from the risk in the treatment of growler filling stations? If anything, those hard-working people filling the growlers will be just as passionate as those working on the breweries’ premises. And it’s this passion that will push them to continuously serve a quality product in a clean and inviting atmosphere.

I believe there are so many advantages in allowing retailers the opportunity to pour a 16-64 oz. growler. Now, I write this strictly as a passionate consumer. I don’t work in the industry, nor do I pretend to understand the industry. If I’m incorrect in any of my statements, feel free to contact me. I’d love to have a conversation and to learn more about what I’m missing. Regardless of the reasons, craft beer should not just push the envelope on the beer itself, but it should also push the envelope on how the beer is made available to those who love it so.
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