Beer Nuts

Aluminum ‘Crowler’ Is New Way to Go

By JEFF LINKOUS | Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Jeff Linkous

A couple of years ago, on a friend’s beer blog, I mused whether the glass growler was about to get some serious competition for the hearts of craft beer drinkers.

“Are crowlers the future of take-home craft beer?” I asked in an April 2015 post on “I Drink Good Beer” (idrinkgoodbeer.com/craft-beer-blog/crowler/), a blog devoted to exploring regional craft breweries, beers and beer trends.

I was fairly convinced the tossable metal can version of a growler – which is exactly what a crowler is – would make a big dent in the glass jug’s long and seemingly indelible reign. How this competition played out would be a matter only time could tell. However, on the face of it, the big can appeared to have some advantages over the glass jug.

Those advantages were all about the conveniences, with long-term storage being a significant one, and that’s what spurred my enthusiasm, not to mention that when you finished your crowler, you could toss it into your recycling for disposal, not store it on a shelf that craft beer memorabilia has taken over.

Yes, breweries filling jumbo-size cans with draft beer and sealing them with a lid that pops open to pour like virtually any other canned beverage seemed like a smart idea that would catch on and spread fast. Certainly the proliferation of craft breweries nationally, regionally and locally would be some kind of catalyst in that regard.

But two years hence – and two years in craft beer is practically like geologic time nowadays; a lot of changes can and do happen – I had begun to think, uh, maybe not so fast. In those two years since I joined blog owner Brian Casse on a crowler video project for “I Drink Good Beer,” we’ve seen a plethora of new breweries, but the rising profile of crowlers has been slow. It appears the crowler still has some catching up to do to its glass counterpart.

But there has been some movement, with additions trickling in. Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven began offering crowlers last month; SlackTide Brewing in Cape May County fills crowlers, as does Jughandle Brewing in Monmouth County. (There are probably more – so many breweries, so little time.) Meanwhile, some economic forces point to a continued rise in profile for the big cans: The price of the equipment, sold new, continues to drop, and used equipment is becoming more widely available.

But again, time will tell.

Some background. What exactly is a crowler? It’s a giant aluminum can, 32 ounces of beer to take home or to a party, picnic or latest confab of your beer geek circle. At just shy of 8 inches tall and 3 inches in diameter, it dwarfs pint and 12-ounce cans. Crowlers chill fast (as aluminum cans do), they keep well in the fridge (they’re not space hogs, either), and the beer maintains its carbonation very well over time. (I’ve tested this, purposely storing them for several months.)

The crowler is perfect for any beer, but especially the high-alcohol beers, the imperial stouts, 2x IPAs, tripels and quads – beers you’re not too likely to drink alone, especially not a half gallon or 2-liter growler’s worth. That’s where the quart size and that long-term storage in the fridge really mean something. Two pints are easier to drink than four. Probably healthier, too. And not having to worry about the beer degassing (an annoying circumstance with some growlers) is a bonus.

Crowlers are good impulse buys, too. Say you’re visiting a craft brewery and you forgot to bring a growler, but you decide you want to take home beer. If the brewery offers crowlers, then problem solved: no need to buy a new jug that looks like the one at home you didn’t bring. And, as I mentioned earlier, that empty crowler is going into recycling, not on the beer souvenir shelf.

The can filleth over. Brewery taproom workers fill crowlers nearly exactly like glass jugs – beer is poured into the can straight from the tap (or via counter-pressure growler fillers). With a little bit of overflow to ensure a proper fill, a lid is placed on the head of foam, and the can is set in a sealer, which spins the can, notably the lip of the can and the edge of the lid, against grooved rollers. That’s what seams the lid in place and air tight.

Colorado brewer Oskar Blues, an early devotee of canning craft beer, helped develop the crowler about three or four years ago. The sealer equipment new cost $3,000 (or more) in 2015 when “I Drink Good Beer” paid a call on Village Idiot Brewing in Mount Holly, then New Jersey’s only crowler-filling brewery, to see the device in action. A quick internet search reveals that price has come down by nearly half.

Speaking of seeing it in action, filling and sealing a crowler is a rather nondescript process, no question. But the results are great: That can of beer, albeit a big can, will remain ready to drink for a long time, all with a smaller footprint in the fridge, compared with most glass growlers.

Glass, by the way, isn’t going anywhere soon. There are a lot of growlers in circulation, and breweries will gladly continue selling them and filling them with beer.

Two years later, I’m still very bullish on crowlers (I have four waiting to be enjoyed). I still think their popularity is in the offing. And when it arrives, we’ll know it. It’ll be in the can.

jeff@thesandpaper.net

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