CORVALLIS — When Fifth Street Growlers started pouring for the first time this month, the line of people at the bar to fill reusable jugs with their favorite brew was 15 deep. And some local beer lovers couldn’t even wait till the new taproom officially opened its doors.
“We had a couple people waiting outside with empty growlers," co-owner Bob Van Vleet said. “We let them in a bit early."
The new business is the first dedicated growler fill station in Corvallis, but it won’t be the last — a second, called Beer:30, is slated to open by the end of the month.
Oregon microbreweries have always been happy to fill growlers to go, but the concept has enjoyed a surge of popularity in this beer-mad state since The Growler Guys opened their first store last year in Bend. The Central Oregon venture’s success opened the tap for a flood of imitators.
“We knew it would just be a matter of time before it came to Corvallis because it’s a real beer-drinking town," Van Vleet said. “So we decided to just get ahead of the wave."
Oregon prides itself on its thriving microbrew industry, and part of the appeal of having a growler is the ability to sample a wide swath of the virtually endless variety on tap, including exotic brews not available at the corner store.
“If you can take home a growler of beer that you can’t get in a bottle or can, there’s some allure to that as a consumer," said Joel Rea of Corvallis Brewing Supply.
Most mid-valley brewpubs and fill stations charge about $10 and up to fill a half-gallon growler, making the price competitive with bottled craft brews, and many offer discounts one day a week to sweeten the deal.
“We might get a good portion of our business from people who used to get a six-pack at Safeway," speculated Fifth Street Growlers’ Van Vleet. “For roughly the same price, they can get fresh keg beer."
Growlers are also a good way to promote your product, according to Flat Tail Brewing’s Iain Duncan, who estimates there are well over 1,000 growlers in circulation with his brewery’s logo on them.
“It’s like the T-shirt theory," Duncan said.
“You sell a T-shirt, you’ve got a walking billboard. Same thing with a growler. ... You show up at a party with that and people say, ‘What’s that? Where’d you get it?’"
And for brand-new breweries like Corvallis-based Mazama, which brewed its first beer this month (an IPA called Hops Eruption), growlers offer a chance to generate some much-needed revenue while lining up wholesale customers.
It can also help build the brand by getting Mazama beer into the hands of customers quickly. Growler stores around the state provide the opportunity to get their beer out far and wide, Mazama owners Jeff and Kathy Tobin said. It’s a retail market they say didn’t exist even two years ago.
Wave of the future
It’s a market that’s growing quickly, in part because of relatively low barriers to entry.
Under Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulations, breweries and pubs can ring up growler sales under their primary licenses. Specialty growler fill operations can do the same thing by getting a simple off-premises license.
“It’s essentially the same liquor license that a grocery store or a convenience store gets, except their employees need a service permit," OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott said. “Then they can sell sealed growlers to go."
And thanks to a new law enacted just last month, Oregon retailers can now fill growlers with wine as well as beer.
You don’t need a lot of real estate, either.
Beer:30 owner Debbie Edwards is setting up shop in a 1,200-square-foot former restaurant in South Corvallis. Her tasting room and growler fill station will seat 26 people and have 30 taps, including a rotating selection of 24 artisan beers and a smattering of cider, wine and mead.
She’s also installing a high-tech CO2 counterpressure system for growler fills.
“It keeps the beer from touching oxygen and essentially keeps it draft quality," Edwards said. “That was the kind of thing that got me excited about doing this in the first place — it’s kind of new and different."