When the Crooked Ram craft beer bar and bottle shop opened in Manchester, Vermont last year, owner Peter Campbell offered to-go draft beer in crowlers, rather than growlers. The aluminum alternative to glass growlers outsells any other packaged beer at the Crooked Ram, Campbell says. On busy days the bar and bottle shop sells more than 90 32-ounce crowlers, priced on average at $13 each.
Other retailers are also singing the praises of the crowler. Tim Brack, co-owner of the Really Good Beer Stop in Jacksonville, Florida, has been filling crowlers for more than two years. The crowlers have become so popular that the beer store now only sells 64-ounce growlers, although it will still refill 32-ounce ones. Really Good Beer—which offers 20 different craft beers on tap—sells almost 40 crowlers a week on average, priced between $8 and $18 each. In Denver, the Craft Alley shop opened last year with the sole mission of selling crowlers from local breweries. “Our goal is to provide access to local beers that customers may not be able to get on their own,” says Craft Alley co-owner Bryce Forester. The retailer offers a rotating cast of beers from nearly 10 breweries for its crowlers, priced from $8-$32 each.
The crowler was introduced several years ago through a partnership between Colorado craft brewer Oskar Blues and Ball Corp. The 32-ounce package allows consumers to purchase draft beer to-go from breweries and retail venues. The can is sealed by a tabletop seamer and is more convenient than glass growlers, which, though reusable, must be washed thoroughly before refilling. The crowler’s marketers tout its ability to block out light and oxygen, as well as its portability and convenience. “The crowler was never intended to replace canned beer,” says Oskar Blues marketing director Chad Melis. “It’s simply a higher-quality replacement for the growler.” Seamers—which can be purchased through Ball Corp.—are roughly the size of an espresso machine and range in price from $3,000-$6,000.
On-premise venues are also promoting crowlers. Riverside Lounge in Grand Rapids, Michigan has opted for the vessels over growlers and sells about 30 a week. “It was a less expensive investment than glass,” explains manager Ryan Start, adding that customers prefer to fill two 32-ounce crowlers rather than one 64-ounce growler. The lounge offers 47 draft beers for crowler fills, ranging in price from $10-$30.
Most retailers rely on social media to promote their crowler business. Craft Alley—which purchases pre-filled crowlers from seven local self-distributing breweries and offers on-site purchasing and delivery—participates in beer festivals to build awareness. Really Good Beer merchandises buckets large enough to hold four crowlers so customers can bring a selection of brews to parties.
Retailers say crowlers win out over growlers as they’re more portable and maintain freshness better. Their smaller size also provides customers with the option to purchase two different beers as opposed to one. “We didn’t even consider growlers because we didn’t want to wash the glass,” says Campbell of the Crooked Ram, which features eight beers on draft. He adds that since most of his customers are tourists and often take beer back home with them, the canned package is more convenient and less breakable than its glass counterpart.
Operators say there’s little downside to crowlers, although “they can be time-intensive when you’re busy,” Campbell says. “If a customer asks for six or seven crowlers at a time, it can cause a bottleneck.” The Crooked Ram pre-fills three to four crowlers of each draft brew it offers on busy days to speed up the process. The pre-filled beers usually sell within 30 minutes, Campbell notes.
With the growing popularity of crowlers, options have expanded. Retailers say seamers for 16- and 24-ounce cans are now available, as are those for resealable cans, and that multi-pack rings are in development. The advances will only help to further drive sales of the package. “It’s been exciting to see how crowlers have taken off,” Brack says. “But I think we’re only scratching the surface.”