Hang on to your hops, beer is on the move—and not just in bottles and cans. The newest trend in craft beer has already popped up at thirty gas stations, mini marts and specialty tap houses around Oregon, while many states are still hoping to clear up legislative tangles. Oregonians have discovered the joys of fill stations that offer tote-able fresh draft beer growlers, ready to take out and share with friends and family.
Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association, reports that the trend is spreading across the United States. Figures from the Brewers Association show that nationwide, nearly thirty-five percent of draft beer sales from brewpubs and production brewery facilities are going into growlers. This comes just a year after beer overcame wine as the drink of choice among eighteen to thirty-five-year-olds.
The new icon of both flavor- and eco-minded beer lovers, growler fill stations allow consumers to purchase draft beer in reusable, to-go containers. Home consumption, parties, picnics and camping just got a whole lot better.
Growlers, shaped like old-fashioned moonshine jugs, hold 64 ounces of fluid. Growlettes, or mini-growlers, come in at half that volume, holding 32 ounces. Though growlers are commonly made of glass, ceramic or stainless steel, there are also Mylar “pouches” coming onto the market (imagine a 64-ounce Capri Sun). With less weight and compressible materials, pouches are well-suited for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities.
A plastic version of the growlette, known as a 32-ounce “bullet,” is available through Bottless. Taller and skinnier than a glass growlette, they fit into bicycle water cages, are shatterproof and are popular with the biking crowd. True to Oregon form, many proprietors are also willing to fill pint and half-gallon canning jars. Imperial Bottle Shop in Portland offers 16-ounce bottle fills.
Growlers aren’t just for beer, either. Kombucha, water, cold press coffee and wine are now making their way across the state in these eco-friendly vessels. Reusing the same receptacle multiple times is a huge sustainability leap for the industry. As the folks at Portland Growler Company so aptly put it, “When you consider ‘reuse, reduce and recycle’ we’d rather reuse than recycle. Recycling requires more resources, so why not fill a reusable growler?” Generating little-to-no waste after production, growlers reduce energy output and resource consumption.
Mike Coplin, owner of 16 Tons in Eugene, champions growlers every opportunity he gets. “We specialize in filling beers that are not otherwise packaged. That has been our niche. For the first two years we were in business we offered every special release available from Ninkasi and Oakshire. Now that production breweries can fill growlers, many customers choose to go direct to them for growlers as well,” he says. “Despite all the new competition, the vast majority of people buy their beer at convenience stores, supermarkets or warehouse stores, so there is still a huge opportunity for us to sell more beer.”
While we may not have been able to easily enjoy a one-off or seasonal brew many places in the past, the possibilities are now multitudinous. Websites such as Taplister are veritable gold mines of growler fill possibilities. Use Taplister to find a beer you’ve never tried, or to explore availability when you’re traveling to new corners of the state.
Before embarking on a trip down the growler rabbit hole, I must note that growlers are not a shortcut to discount beer. Still, don’t let that deter you—there are times when a beer-lover can sleuth out great prices on growler fills. Instead, think of growlers as a cost-comparative way to enjoy craft beers at home, with the bonus of full draft flavor.
Finally, remember the best thing about growlers: the ability to try new flavors and styles not otherwise available “to go.” As Glenn of BeerDawgs in Redmond is fond of saying, growlers represent “love in a jug,” so select the right time and place, and share the Oregon beer love.
- Regularly cleaned and well-maintained growlers keep beer fresh and cold, so how you seal your growler (flexible rubber gaskets, well-threaded caps, etc.) is important.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to oxygen; while beer consumed soon after the growler is filled might not exhibit any signs, oxidation results in the “wet cardboard” taste that is sometimes found in beer. Some stations, such as the Tin Bucket and Beer:30 are now offering a carbon dioxide “counter-pressure” Pegas CrafTap system, where the oxygen is pushed out of the vessel and replaced with CO2—a maneuver that enables longer carbonation and freshness than the usual practice of filling a growler directly from the tap with an extender hose. Imperial Bottle Shop goes one step further, boasting a one-of-a-kind Blichmann Beer Gun filling system, purging the entire vessel from the bottom up with CO2 and removing oxygen. While the Blichmann method works in vessels of multiple shapes and sizes, the Pegas CrafTap system has limited vessel compatibility.
- While innovative filling systems are great for providing fresh beer, dirty tap lines or draft equipment can muddy your investment; choose clean shops that regularly maintain their equipment, and chat with the shop employees to let them know that you care about clean lines.
- Rinse and clean out your growlers after use—bacteria can be harbored in the gaskets or caps and in the growler. While some growler stations will do a quick rinse before filling, the onus is on the customer to bring clean containers for filling. If you find that your beer goes flat because you’re not getting through the growler in time, simply choose a smaller container next time.
- Look for slow-day specials on fills direct from breweries and brewpubs.
GROWLER FILL STATION LIST
16 Tons | 18 taps | Eugene | sixteentons.biz
39th Mini Mart | 6 taps | Portland | facebook.com/39th-Mini-Mart
Beer:30 | 30 taps | Corvallis | beer30corvallis.com
Beer Dawgs Growler Fill Station | 29 taps | Redmond | beerdawgs.net
BeerWorks | 6 taps | Medford | facebook.com/Beerworks
Bier One | 6 taps | Newport | bier-one.com
Bottles NW | 8 taps | Portland | bottlesnw.com
Broken Top Bottle Shop | 12 taps | Bend | btbsbend.com
Bull Ridge Brewpub | 10 taps | Baker City | letseat.at/bullridgebrewpub
Clock Tower Ales | 32 taps | The Dalles | clocktowerales.com
Fifth Street Growlers | | 28 taps | Corvallis | 5thstreetgrowlers.com
Gorilla Growlers at Empire Car Wash | 29 taps | Bend | gorilla-growlers.com
Growl Movement | 32 taps | Salem | growlmovement.com
Growler Guys | 36 taps | Bend | thegrowlerguys.com
Growler Guys West | 30 taps | Bend | thegrowlerguys.com
Growler King | 21 taps | Medford | growlerkingbeer.com
Growler Phil’s | 33 taps | Bend | growlerphils.com
High Desert Growler Room | 15 taps | Bend | gorays.com
Hollywood Liquor Store | 10 taps | Portland | hollywoodliquor.net
Hondo’s Brew & Cork | 12 taps | Astoria | hondosbrewncork.qwestoffice.net
Hop N Bean | 20 taps | Sisters | hopnbean.com
Imperial Bottle Shop | 16 taps | Portland | imperialbottleshop.com
NW Growlers | 30 taps | Portland | nwgrowlers.com
The Brew Shop | 15 taps | Bend | thebrewshopbend.com
The Hoppy Brewer | 12 taps | Gresham | oregonshoppyplace.com
The Mountain Jug | 12 taps | Sunriver | mountainjug.com
Tin Bucket | 40 taps | Portland | growler-station.com/tinbucket
Tumalo Country Store | 7 taps | Bend | facebook.com/TumaloStore
Zupan’s Market (Belmont) | 6 taps | Portland | www.zupans.com