Growlers Go Mainstream: Fill Stations Emerge in Retail Locations Across the U.S.

Beer Growlers Go Mainstream

For craft beer drinkers, growlers won’t be going away anytime soon. A growler is a refillable “to go” container that is used to transport craft beer and sold to consumers at a retail price. Growlers come in the standard 64-ounce size or smaller 32-ounce growlets. Growlers allow consumers to sample a wide variety of draft beers while enjoying that fresh-from-the tap taste at home.

While breweries are a favorite spot to purchase and fill up growlers, you can now find your favorite brew on tap in supermarkets, wine/ liquor stores, and even gas stations. For cities that don’t have a booming craft beer scene, retail outlets are taking advantage of this demand. Stores such as Albertsons, Safeway, Total Wine & More, Price Chopper, WinCo Foods and Sunoco gas stations now have growler fill stations.

Since 2006, Whole Foods Market added over 40 growler stations at their locations in nine states. Bartell Drugs, a drugstore chain in Washington state, and Fred Meyer, a Pacific Northwest supermarket chain, offer fill stations in certain locations.

Beer blogger Wolf Linderman writes about Portland’s craft beer scene in his blog, BeerGuyPDX and is a contributing writer in Steve Shomler’s book, Portland Beer Stories. Wolf shared that growlers are here to stay in Portland, but local supermarkets are “dipping their toes” into the growler market rather than “jumping on the bandwagon.”

“Fred Meyer has opened fill stations in only a few select stores. Their Hollywood, Hawthorne and Burlingame stores are the only three in Portland. New Seasons Market on North Williams also has a growler fill station, but the one in my Concordia neighborhood does not,” said Wolf.

Wolf pointed out that it makes sense for supermarkets to fill growlers in Portland because people buy their beer that way. He would be more interested in filling his growlers at Fred Meyer if they had better deals.

Despite Fred Meyer’s higher price point, Wolf said that Fred Meyers beer selection is “spot on” and they rotate ten premium, local craft beers on tap. Local brewery selections include Boneyard, Breakside, Lompoc, Deschutes, and Base Camp.

Another drawback to filling up growlers at supermarkets is the lack of prompt customer service.

“Part of the problem is that you have to hunt down somebody to fill your growler because there isn’t a dedicated attendant. That turns me off because I don’t like to look for assistance at the store and I think most people feel the same way,” Wolf shared. “I get regular fills at Hollywood Beverage because it’s close to my house, they always have someone manning the taps, and they offer good prices.”

Compared to supermarkets, there is an upside to filling up growlers at local breweries. Jared Baxter, who lives near Portland, shared that you can learn a lot about the beers when you step inside a bar or brewery because you get a more personal, interactive experience. According to Jared, growlers provide a doorway to sampling the thousands of beers being brilliantly brewed in the country today.

Most establishments in Portland allow you to sample the beer before they pour it. This allows beer drinkers the opportunity to chat with bartenders and brewery owners who are knowledgeable about a huge variety of beers and how they’re made, including mashes and hop varieties.

“The best will learn your palate and make suggestions about styles you might not have tried or may be wary of tasting,” said Jared. “Of course, with growlers there’s the economy of scale: the more you buy, the less you pay. Owners are looking to push out beer to consumers, so they will often discount very good beers so they can move on to the next big thing.”

Wolf pointed out that it’s easy to find great deals on growler fill-ups at local breweries, especially in Portland. He’s very loyal to local breweries where he fills up his growlers and likes to buy direct from breweries in his neighborhood.

“There are so many breweries here in town that it’s incredibly easy to get a growler filled. I keep three in the trunk of my car. Even the pizza joint around the corner from my house fills growlers. It’s the best way to buy beer for parties or just for a weekend BBQ. Alameda Brewing, about 2 miles from my house, has $5 growler fill deals on Saturdays during football season. That’s a 64- ounce growler for the price of a pint! I could use more deals like that!”

It’s important to check the liquor sales laws in your state because not every state allows retail businesses to sell growlers. Because of the growth of the craft beer industry, states such as California, Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona and Delaware have recently lifted strict restrictions on their growler sales laws.

Due to the thriving craft beer scene in Oregon, Oregon’s laws are less stringent when it comes to growlers. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, growlers can be filled at any retail store, restaurant, bar, brewpub, or winery with the appropriate OLCC license. There are no limits on the number of growlers that a business can sell to customers – the limit depends on the size of the container (two gallons or less). Filled growlers are also subject to Oregon’s open container laws. They need to be transported with a secure lid and cannot be within reach of the driver (must be placed in the backseat or trunk).

For more information about growler sales laws in your state, check out https://www.brewersassociation.org/government-affairs/laws/growler-laws/

Therese Pope is a freelance copywriter located in Northern California who writes for the restaurant/food and hospitality industry. She is a die-hard foodie and wine lover with a passion for cooking. Check out her Facebook page, The Gold Country Foodista https://www.facebook.com/goldcountryfoodista.

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