Charleston shouldn't have to choose between copious amounts of craft beer and beach days. But let's be honest, growlers and beaches just don't go. If you haven't yet discovered salvation in the form of a crowler, you're welcome.
A crowler is exactly what it sounds like — the lovechild of a growler and a can. Nestled classily between the 24 oz. tallboy and a Forty, a crowler is a 32-ounce can filled-to-order at your local brewery. It may be the next best thing in Charleston's craft beer enjoyment.
"I've tried to dare a bunch of bachelor parties to shotgun one. I heard our youngest bartender — she's around 22 — did one at a party, but I haven't been able to confirm that," says Mike Fielding of Low Tide Brewing, one of at least eight local breweries that are now pouring their pride and joy into these tallerboys. "We love our crowler machine."
We all know the struggle that is remembering to bring your growler to fill. Suddenly you're pondering, "Why do I have 19 of these things under my counter?" Not to mention cleaning it, the sneaky air and light that weasel their way in and marr your precious IPA, or the fact that you get a few days — tops — to enjoy it. Cans on the other hand are more portable, protect your beer from oxygen and light, and are easily disposable (read: recyclable). But is 12 ounces really going to cut it?
"Once Oskar Blues brought it [a crowler machine] to the market, it took off," says Fielding, who's gone through five pallets of 2,400 cans each since opening 18 months ago. That's an average of 666 crowlers per month.
The crowler whirred onto the market in 2012 when Colorado brewery Oskar Blues partnered with the Ball Company, of hipster jar fame, and patented the first crowler machine. This beer canning device takes "can" and "growler" and portmanteus them into a bourgeoise bohemian dream. Now you can tote the craftiest beers on your hike, boat, or toke break without sacrificing any of those precious tasting notes.
"We're able to control every part of the process, including how clean the can is, and put our own label on it," says Rusty Bull's Ben Mayer. "It's basically the same process as when we're filling kegs."
- Jonathan Boncek
- Eight local breweries sell crowlers
The device itself is a conversation piece in an industry that enjoys conversing about beer practically as much as drinking it. The CO2 tube hisses, the beer flows, and the steam-punkish, bartop canning device whirrs as cans go around and around like a maniacal, drunken merry-go-round. Out pops your crowler, daring you to take it on an adventure.
This is 2017 after all; there are men drinking rosé out of a can and Instagramming it.
"It just looks good," says Mayer, "people take them all over — Alaska, New York, abroad — and tag us on social media. Nobody does that with a growler."
You can now grab a crowler of your favorite craft brew from a whole slew breweries — including Edmund's Oast, Frothy Beard, Rusty Bull, Cooper River, Low Tide, Holy City, and Two Blokes — and Instagram the shit out of it. Famulari's Brew Pub will join the crew this fall, and there are whispers, though tentative, around Twisted Cypress Brewing. With a neat eight to 12-dollar price point, the crowler is here to stay.
"We probably sell 150 percent more crowlers than growlers," says Fielding. Whether you chalk that up to the cool quotient or the fact that crowlers simply hold less, Charleston is catching on.
This holy grail has its downsides too, of course. "The initial instructions are real shit. However, the guy that builds them puts his cell phone on the website and you can call him up to talk you through anything," says Low Tide's Fielding. The labels go on crooked, noted Jamie Martin of Cooper River. Most importantly, this is not a cheap trend. Rusty Bull dropped $5,500 for the starter setup; Cooper River $6,000; Low Tide $6,500. But no brewery I talked to showed any regrets.
- Jonathan Boncek
- Katie Powers pours a crowler direct from the tap at Cooper River Brewing
On the drinker's end, being stuck with an open can sucks sometimes, and being stuck with an open 32-ounce can sucks triple. So, this March, the second company to piggyback on Ball's invention, Dayton Systems Group, announced its next gamechanger: the resealable crowler. Rusty Bull is biting, but there's no word yet on whether most Charleston breweries will hop on the update.
For now, enjoy the golden age of crowlers.
"The only downside that I've seen to crowlers is that there's no way for distributor reps to take samples," says Rusty Bull's Mayer, "unless they're 32-ounce samples."
Call us crazy, but are 32-ounce samples for $8 a pop a bad thing? Your friends don't think so.