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Sep 03

The great growler adventure

We’ve been filling growlers for 11 days (with special thanks to our legislators and governor for making HB 1465 into law). I’m happy to realize that, so far, growler fills haven’t cut into bottle sales.

The Beer

We’ve seen a lot of new customers start with 64-ounce jugs of African Amber by Mac & Jack’s and Georgetown Manny’s Pale in swing-top 32s. The other six spots are rotating: Some kegs blowing within days; others — like Airways Sky Hag IPA, Deschutes The Abyss 2010, and Georgetown Porter — in just hours.

Requests are trickling in by email, slow enough to personally respond. Oddly, some requests are for things in bottles or cans. With thousands of draft-only beers made by nearly 150 Washington breweries, plus so many from Oregon, California and other states — and countries — it seems inconceivable that people would ask for a growler of something that’s 10 feet behind them. But they do.

C’s done a great job selecting beers, though unable to get everything we’d like to offer. There are Washington breweries at capacity, able to brew just enough beer to meet the demand of their current accounts. There are other breweries with their flagship line running dry before new beer is ready. Some are expanding tanks, others maintaining. We, and our customers, are discovering breweries and beers we never had the ability to explore, unless hanging at the cool neighborhood tavern or visiting the brewery. This is really cool.

The fillers

The great growler adventure: Making adjustmentsOverall the CrafTap systems have been great. A few modifications have been made: Color-coding and numbering things behind the scenes, so we can quickly identify the eight draft beer connections. C constructed an easy-to-clean sanitary step so we’d be able to fill 32oz Boston rounds.

It was reported that the Chuckanut Pils tasted fresh-from-tap upon cracking the seals after one day, we confirmed this on the fourth day. In a few weeks, we’ll see how other beers fared as several growlers await our multi-week check points. I should probably grab another Pils to check since they seem most sensitive to oxidation and CO2 loss.

Several folks said the labels were hard to remove, so we’ve been tweaking and experimenting with application processes. The heat seal has been well-received; it’s amazing how many folks didn’t know, when driving, an unsealed/untaped growler is equivalent to an open container.

As for waste, it’s been pretty much in-line with our expectations.

I’m curious to see how many converts we get for 32oz growlers. Why commit to a big 64-ounce jug if the beer’s gonna show a bit of oxidation and less fizz if it extends into day two? If you need 64 ounces, two 32-ounce jugs give you that fresh-from-tap experience twice!

The process

Step up to “Order Growlers” will take time for customers to understand. Again, our subtle labeling in-store isn’t always seen (though in-your-face signage is also ignored). The goal: To get folks to step to “Order Growlers” before shopping since the fill takes time. We can’t have checkout congested and blocked, creating frustration for others.

For those waffling on a growler fill, they realize the intent behind my encouragement for them to order growlers up-front. However, this is realized too-late: After shopping the bottles, they order the growler and end up waiting for a fresh craft from draft. Then they complete the purchase. Late ordering makes for a long shopping experience.

We need to be more prompt about the twitter posts for kegs blown and replaced. I was a day delayed on the Walking Man Stout, as it blew and was replaced on my day off; other ‘now on’ posts have gone out hours after the swap. When your attention gets pulled here, then there, some things get delayed but this can’t be one of them.

The Price

This is really digging into our time, causing us to neglect the bottles. I stocked like crazy this week, but still have much ahead of me today. Today C will head in early in attempt to get caught up. It was Day 2 of growler fills, all three of us on the floor, me stocking like a madman and guiding customers here and there, while C and D are juggling growler fills and checkout. But that’s not all… D and I are both pouring Sip! Sip! samples. C and I knew we’d have to hire a new part-time employee with the addition of growler fills, but neither of us realized I’d be posting the “HELP WANTED – Beer Clerk” sign on the third day.

We’ll need to readjust growler fill/beer prices to cover the cost of an additional beer clerk, but will continue to focus on good beer values.

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