Crowler or growler? Innovation provides more choices for beer-lovers

2017-05-24 15:26:00

Back in March of 2016, when Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB126, a bill allowing breweries in the state to sell their beers for off-premise consumption, many referred to it as simply the “Growler Bill.” After all, ½-gallon glass growlers have been the preferred method for taking home draft beer for years. But when June 1st arrived and the law went into effect, it was obvious that they could have dubbed it the “Crowler Law,” as more than a third of the state’s (then) 24 operating breweries and brewpubs were ready to fill 32-ounce aluminum cans with beer straight from the tap.

Crowlers are the brainchild of Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery, which was founded by Alabama native Dale Katechis in 1997. Oskar Blues Crowler

By 2002, Oskar Blues had found itself in the national spotlight as the first brewery to offer craft beer in aluminum cans. It was a leap of faith for Oskar Blues; canned beer was shrouded in the stigma of being low-quality. It would take some time to convince beer-lovers that the can was the superior vessel for storing our favorite light-adverse liquid. Patience would pay off — there are now 550 craft breweries offering more than 2,100 different beers in cans, according to craftcans.com. In December of 2013, Oskar Blues would again shake up the craft beer world by introducing the Crowler in their Lyons, Colo., taproom. “We get off on pushing the limits, doing things differently, and the Crowler is another step of innovation to take advantage of what the can package has to offer from behind the bar,” says Jeremy Rudolf, the man behind the Crowler integration at Oskar Blues.

It wasn’t long before other breweries were contacting the folks at Oskar Blues to install Crowler machines in their own taprooms, and by the time beer to-go was legalized in Alabama, the distinctive sealers were in taprooms across the country.

The vessels certainly have their advantages. “Just being able to take aluminum [to] places where you can’t take glass — to the beach, for instance — that’s a big thing for us,” says Tim Heath, brewer at Fairhope Brewing Company in Alabama. “We want to make sure our customers have the freshest beer to take with them on whatever adventures await.”

While most breweries in the state chose to offer Crowlers in addition to glass growlers, Fairhope only offers the cans. “The technology behind [Crowlers] was designed for breweries by breweries,” Heath adds. “It’s made … to ensure you get the best product to the consumer.”

A large part of that process is avoiding light, which can quickly cause a beer to take on a “skunky” flavor as UV rays react with the vital compounds in hops. Dark brown bottles can only stop so much light from getting through; however, cans keep the harmful rays completely at bay.

There are some drawbacks, chiefly that Crowlers are designed to be a one-time vessel, unlike their glass counterparts, which are refillable. But the advantages — portability, recyclability, and crushability (the can, not necessarily the beer) — tend to outweigh the negatives for a lot of craft breweries.

“It really holds up over time,” Heath says, “and there are some really nice things to be said about the 32-ounce size. … More often than not, you’re probably splitting [your Crowler] with someone else, and it’s the perfect size to share with one or two other people.”

How it works:

crowler demo

After a Crowler is filled with your favorite craft beer, a lid is applied and the Crowler is placed onto the seamer pedestal. The pedestal is turned so that the can is raised up and locked under pressure into the seamer. As the can spins at a high rate of speed, two sealers ensure that the lid is properly affixed. Once it’s sealed, the canned beer is good for up to two weeks, but should be consumed in one sitting once the can has been opened.

Some of the Alabama breweries that have offered Crowlers: