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The Overdue Return of Growlers

Or
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Glass

In May of 2020, we did something that we never expected we would do: we canned Edward. Necessitated by the pandemic, our move from refillable glass growlers to single-use aluminum cans came with a great deal of hesitation and consideration. Even when we first started canning in the summer of 2017, the decision was not made lightly. We explored several options, equipment, and service providers. 

Growlers have always been a core offering, and we most certainly would have preferred to continue offering beer in that format, especially Edward. However, it was the safest, most convenient way to offer fresh beer during unprecedented times.

We recently reintroduced growlers to-go, and we intend to continue—and expand—the growler program moving forward. We’ll also continue to offer Edward in cans from time to time, although less frequently than in the last two years.

The benefits of growlers are demonstrable, and aluminum cans’ complexity and ultimately problematic nature are never far from our thoughts. Even if recycling was as efficient and all-encompassing as many assume (it isn’t), the process of mining raw materials and manufacturing cans on the scale needed to service the explosive brewing industry alone is troubling and worth consideration by the beverage industry itself (to our knowledge it hasn’t, thus far).  In some countries, brewers are responsible for their packaging – investing in bottle washers and a more holistic redemption system.  In the United States, manufacturers (of all things, it seems), as far as we can see, have no culpability for their packaging materials, and therefore our roadsides and landfills are littered with single-use materials. 

A comment from Russian River Brewing’s Natalie Cilurzo several years ago echoed our essential belief in growlers in a poignant and surprisingly Vermont (and California) way: “I have never seen a growler jug on the side of the road.”

Nor have we, and why is that?

It’s renewably useful! Aside from occasionally replacing the rubber gasket, they can be used for years; we have locals still using the same growlers from the first day of opening more than 12 years ago (thank you, Jefferson!).Jefferson with first growler

It’s an investment! You paid actual money for the container, so it’s unlikely you’d chuck it out your window or allow it to take flight from the back of your truck when you’re done (unlike 5 or 10¢ deposits). Every year, we collect bags of aluminum cans (almost all beer, hard seltzer, and soda) strewn in the ditches of just our short stretches of road to the brewery. It’s one of the reasons Green Up in Vermont has to happen, sadly.

And then there’s a freshness aspect…

“When was the last time you really tasted Edward?” — literally the entire team here enjoying the beer at every stage of its life.

While cans may arguably afford some technical advantages —and they’re certainly convenient—growlers are as close to draft as you can get. Again, with all the factors at play (are the lines clean, are the faucets clean, is the glass clean, etc.?), we empirically believe that a draft pour of Edward is always superior to a can. A properly filled and stored growler of Edward enjoyed within a week or two… without question, it’s as close as you can get to what we believe is a peak experience with an American Pale Ale. So, what does that mean, in a world overflowing with aluminum, plastic, and the allure of over-the-counter and constant convenience?

For us, at least, it means slowly turning the ship back towards what we consider to be responsible shores. We want to continue acting intentionally and consciously in all our decisions, especially the rippling impact each has on our community, our world, and ourselves. Packaging is one of those areas where we have significant control—and responsibility.

This effort connects directly to conscious consumption, which we’ll continue to explore in parallel, but suffice to say, the difference between snapping open a can and flipping open a growler has a decidedly different feel on every level. Cans (although “infinitely” recyclable) are the symbol of a disposable culture that appeals to instant gratification; growlers are (unless broken, infinitely) reusable and require a measure of intention and involvement.

Notably, many of you have assembled significant collections of glassy flip-top containers—and we’re looking forward to seeing you soon, rolling coolers in tote, jingling and clinking your way into our taproom! We plan to expand our growler offerings, including growler-exclusive beers throughout the year, and we’re constantly refining the process for ordering and pick-up in our taproom.

Our ultimate, long-term, idealistic and likely impossible-to-achieve goal: remove cans entirely from our retail equation and return to growlers for all fresh beer. Doable? Certainly!  Ambitious? To be sure. Easy? Nearly Impossible.  In the near term: Focus on Edward. 

We want to ensure the best possible experience for those of you on the growler journey with us, so this will be a systematic process, with incremental steps as quickly and usefully as we’re able to implement.  Once upon a time, during what we consider to be those halcyon years of craft beer in 2013 and 2014, we sold more than 2,000 growlers every week (within 20 hours of retail service!).

In the meantime, we’ll have Edward available in cans from time to time, but know that we’re working towards the complete transition of this beer to growlers… like the “old” days!

 

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