Tapping Into Growlers

A Hot New Trend

Have you thought about installing a growler filling station in your liquor store? With a growler bar, you’re providing a product on tap that clients want, especially when it’s a beer that’s only available in kegs. The first time a customer buys and fills up a growler (64 ounces) the cost is about the same price as a 6-pack of beer—between $5/litre up to $13/litre for more expensive brews. Refills become cheaper once customers have their own growler and aren’t paying recycling fees.

Set Up and Operation

“When a liquor store owner decides to set up a growler bar, there are no minimum requirements based on a town’s population, nor are there any government or public health standards to adhere to,” explains Chad Newton of Canadian Growler. “All a store owner needs is a power outlet. Setting up a growler bar is as easy as wheeling the growler filling station into the store and plugging it in.”

“Make sure you have the room for it,” advises Angus McKenzie, owner of The Beer Shak, who set aside 14 feet to accommodate a 116” growler bar with eight kegs. Smaller filling stations measuring 68” and 92” are also available as well as training videos on operating and maintaining the equipment.

A growler filling station uses CO² to prevent air from getting into the bottle, and that helps the beer stay fresher longer—about three or four weeks if unopened. There’s a learning curve to operating a growler system due to the technicality of purging and pouring different types of beers. For example, lagers and darker beers foam more and take longer to pour. It takes between one and three minutes to fill a growler, depending on the foam, and if the keg is new and shaken up it can also add to the filling time. McKenzie says most of his staff found it easy to learn the growler bar and can operate it efficiently. To discourage over-eager customers with a DIY flair, The Beer Shak has put up a big sign: NO SELF SERVE.

McKenzie recommends using the smaller 20 or 30 litre kegs over 50 or 60 litre kegs. The product stays fresher and there’s less wastage in case it’s a slow-selling beer. One time he had a third of a keg of leftover green beer that was brought in for a fundraiser. Instead of throwing it out, he put it on sale for $1/litre and then it sold out fast.

Maintenance Considerations

Jeff Baker, owner of Petris Liquor, admits the biggest disadvantage to owning a growler bar is that the maintenance has been more time-consuming than he anticipated. The maintenance and cleanliness of the draft lines is critical, and if not done correctly can cause unpleasant flavours. Purging the lines and wiping down counters and taps is part of the daily cleaning ritual, and every two weeks a cleaning solution and sanitizer is circulated through the lines and then rinsed. The faucets also have to be disassembled and cleaned, and the couplers scrubbed. The process takes about four hours. A thorough cleaning is recommended quarterly, with an acid line cleaner for descaling and detail cleaning of the couplers. Outside companies can be hired to do the quarterly cleaning for around $120.


Photo courtesy of Petris Liquor

Niche Appeal

The Beer Shak in Spruce Grove has a challenging market since there are too many liquor stores per capita, about 17 liquor stores serving around 30,000 residents. Angus and Chantal McKenzie were brainstorming to find a niche to attract more customers in this limited market. Installing a growler bar into their boutique liquor store seemed like a great way to give them an edge. They installed their growler bar over a year ago, and although it was slow at the beginning, once word got out, business picked up at a good rate. With eight kegs on their growler bar, they always have one set aside for cider, a big seller, especially as the weather gets hotter.

“Ciders are always a big hit in the summer,” says Baker. As far as growlers go, Newton confirms that cider is the most consumed product on tap.

Cider is the most consumed product on tap.

Lethbridge’s Petris Liquor sells a lot of growlers to middle-aged and older customers, since that’s their demographic. Baker suggests that liquor stores near university and college campuses should seriously consider setting up a growler bar, to appeal to the younger clientele who are especially interested in exploring new brews and using growlers to do so.

Worth the Investment?

Does the cost of installing a growler bar outweigh the benefits of attracting new customers? Growlers can be filled from any draught tap, and a simple, single tap set-up without C0² purging could cost as little as $200, but the beer quality would quickly degrade. A multi-tap system with C0² purging can cost thousands of dollars. A liquor store owner should keep in mind their current level of beer sales and profit margin before deciding to invest in a growler bar.

Advantages of a growler filling station:

1.      A growler bar gives a store a more boutique feel.

2.      Patrons prefer customer service over in-and-out purchases.

3.      While the growler is being filled, customers can walk around the store and keep shopping.

4.      Customers have to bring a clean growler back for a refill, and this is an opportunity to sell growler cleaners to customers who want to ensure they’re sanitized well.

5.      A fun advantage to having a growler bar is the customer interaction. A staff member must fill the growlers, and this is a excellent opportunity to engage the customer, chat about the products, and find out if the customer would like to see a specific beer on the line up.

6.      A growler bar brings people in to buy other products.

Every beer geek should own a growler, and as growlers continue to become popular with beer drinkers, liquor retailers that install growler filling stations have the potential to maximize this lucrative selling opportunity.