By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The craft beer industry in Central Oregon has shown no signs of slowing down.
Neither has the growler industry that has grown up alongside it.
Just three years ago, DrinkTanks was an idea on Kickstarter. Now, the Bend-based growler company is a rapidly growing and recently expanded business by partnering with one of the largest outdoor retailers in the country.
“I didn’t think the growth would happen this quickly,” DrinkTanks founder Nicholas Hill said, sitting in his company’s new office on the east side of Bend. “It’s something I envisioned, but we’re definitely growing at a fast pace. You have to be careful because growing at a rapid pace can be just as dangerous as not growing at all.”
The idea behind DrinkTanks — and other similar products on the market — is no longer new to the beer world. High-end growlers that keep beer cold, carbonated and fresh are available at pretty much any brewery and growler fill station around.
DrinkTanks’ double-walled, vacuum-insulated growlers have become a staple of the craft beer industry following an unassuming start as a Kickstarter campaign. But things haven’t slowed down much since the beginning for DrinkTanks — in less than a year, the company has nearly doubled in size.
This summer DrinkTanks moved into a new facility, with 18,000 square feet of production and office space. It also employs 35 people, nearly double the number working there a year ago.
“This should sustain us for a while,” Hill said, smiling, noting that an adjacent lot could provide room for additional growth.
The biggest change, however, is that the company is more than just a hit in the world of beer. That’s not to say that sales in the world of beer have slowed. Hill noted that the company was up 170 percent year over year and is on pace for similar growth in 2016. Now, however, the business has revenue coming from an entirely different source.
“When we started, the low-hanging fruit was craft beer, growlers — it was an easy to enter into the craft industry,” Hill said. “And we’ve done a really good job transforming over into the outdoor industry, because it’s a natural fit.
“A lot of people that like to do outdoors activities — hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding — all associate, at some level, with some sort of beverage, whether it’s beer, or margaritas or water,” Hill continued. “So our vessel does very well crossing over to that channel.”
Getting into that world was facilitated by outdoor gear and clothing co-op REI. What began as a planned five-minute meeting at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City turned into a full-blown relationship with REI. Starting in July of this year, DrinkTanks is now in all of REI’s stores and also sold on its website.
But much of the core of the company remains the same. While the vessels themselves are manufactured overseas, the rest of the business — from powder coating, to custom engraving, to assembly and shipping — all happens in Bend.
New this year for DrinkTanks will be the Kegulator, an auto-regulating keg cap that turns a DrinkTanks growler into a mini-kegerator. It uses a CO2 cartridge and purge valve to keep beer fresh.
The product was actually supposed to go to market earlier this year, but Hill said he wanted to wait.
“We refused to compromise on the quality and the functionality of the product,” he said, noting he wouldn’t send the Kegulator into the field without being sure it would work exactly as he intended.
The Kegulator should be available this fall, in time for the Christmas season, Hill said. He also said there would be some new offerings from DrinkTanks in 2017, without divulging what they would be.
All of that might mean DrinkTanks might see even more growth in the immediate future.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Bend’s Kimberly Markley decided to make her first pair of earrings in 2012, she says she just wanted to make some cool-looking jewelry shaped like hop flowers.
She had no idea it was the start of what would become a full-time business.
From making beer-themed earrings just for kicks, Markley turned her hobby into a growing endeavor called Hopped Up Jewelry.
Through her sole proprietorship, she now makes earrings, necklaces, rings and more, all based on her own hops-shaped designs. The basic designs are made of machined stainless steel, brass and copper, and she finishes the pieces by hand. Her business includes an account with the state’s biggest beermaker, Deschutes Brewery.
But the decision to go from amateur jeweler to starting a business wasn’t an easy one.
“I don’t have a business degree or a background in jewelry making, so I started learning from scratch — just reading books and branching out,” Markley says while sitting in her studio in Bend.
She relates the story of making her first pair of earrings, simply to express her individuality while waiting tables at a Bend tavern called Brother Jon’s Public House.
When she made that first pair, a friend and regular customer at Brother Jon’s machined an initial design — based on her artwork — on a plasma cutter. She finished it off on her own, and the reaction was almost immediate.
“I think the thing that really got me started on starting a business were my friends,” Markley says. “They were like ‘Kim, these are really cool, you should make them. We want them!’ And I had to be convinced that it was something that people would actually want to wear.”
That reaction from customers and acquaintances is what eventually led to Hopped Up Jewelry.
“So I just started making them for people who asked,” Markley says. “It was definitely a labor of love the first couple of years, because I was working full time and I wasn’t making anything on them.”
She continued making earrings on the side before doing some traveling in 2014, which included a stint living and working in New Zealand. When she got back, she decided to give Hopped Up a go as a full-time endeavor.
Despite a lack of jewelry-making experience, it’s not like it was a huge leap for Markley, at least from an artistic standpoint. She had been a wedding and portrait photographer in the past, and photography is still one of her passions.
That artistic creativity comes out in the packaging as well — the products are mounted on beer coasters she stamps by hand.
Hopped Up Jewelry is still pretty small; Markley does everything from the jewelry making and finishing to sales and order fulfillment on her own. Her studio is in an RV, which she affectionately refers to as Stella. “Good creative vibes happen here,” Markley says with a smile.
But with two years of business under her belt and a growing line of products, Markley says she has aspirations of growing the business.
It’s a pretty good career fashioned out of some earrings made on a whim.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Nicholas Hill just wanted his beer to taste good.
“I couldn’t find a growler available on the market that could keep your beer cold and fresh,” says Hill. “I found my growlers going flat faster than I could drink them, which was very frustrating.”
He began to wonder: What would it take to have a growler that kept beer cold, fresh and carbonated?
At the time, Hill and his father Timothy co-owned a water bottle company. That experience gave them an idea for a new type of growler, which was developed by founding Bend-based DrinkTanks in 2013. Now with two successful Kickstarter campaigns and four products, DrinkTanks has brought to fruition two insulated, stainless-steel growlers that can keep beverages hot for up to 12 hours, cold for up to 24 hours and fresh for up to a week.
DrinkTanks products are powder-coated, engraved, designed and assembled in Bend by a staff of 18 humans and one canine, Paisley, “The Shop Guardian.” Timothy Hill passed away in 2011, but Nicholas Hill knows “he’d be proud of what DrinkTanks is today.”
“We’re committed to supporting our local economy, and with the help of previous Kickstarter backers, we were able to create 10 new jobs in 2014,” says Hill. “Bringing most of our production work in-house, we are also able to ensure that our products adhere to the highest quality control standards. Our goal is to create a product worthy of your beer.”
The Growler That’s a Keg
Flagship BPA-free growlers are available in 64-ounce (classic) and 128-ounce (The Juggernaut) sizes. The double-walled, vacuum-insulated, dishwasher-safe growlers are secured by a leak-proof, dual-bail cap system, and are designed not to pick up or impart flavors from materials or from whatever was last in the growler. Keg Caps are the company’s secret weapon to keep beer fresh, carbonated and unspoiled by oxidation. “It can usually stretch out a growler for three to five days after it has been opened,” says Hill. “We’ve even had some of our customers write in to tell us it lasted seven days or more.”
New for 2016, Kegulator Auto-Regulating Keg Caps also turn any DrinkTanks Growler into “personal, portable kegs,” a feature that’s been enjoyed by early adopters in the homebrewing community for force-carbonating up to a gallon of homebrew. Kegulator caps are compatible with 16 gram and 74 gram CO2 cartridges, and an adjustable dial and pounds per square inch (PSI) gauge lets you control carbonation from 0-40 PSI. A purge valve keeps oxygen out, and a hose dispenses from the bottom of the growler.
While built primarily with craft beer in mind, DrinkTanks growlers can also carry hot drinks such as coffee, cocoa and tea, along with other chilled or cellar-temperature beverages such as wine, spirits, sodas and kombucha.
DrinkTanks are available in brushed stainless steel or 15 stock colors, with custom colors, laser engraving and screen printing also available.
Kickstarted Into Gear
DrinkTanks found social proof for its products and mission early on. On March 13, 2013, the company launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise capital for production of its classic 64-ounce growler. Seeking $30,000, the project closed on Apr. 15, 2013 with 1,959 backers pledging $236,772.
“Every Kickstarter campaign brings the challenge of bringing a new product or service to market,” says Hill. “I would guess most Kickstarter creators don’t take into account what happens in the aftermath. It’s often hard to tell whether you’ve created a company or a nightmare.”
The successful campaign did bring in more money — but it also brought in new challenges and higher expectations.
The aftermath of the first campaign saw the young company facing manufacturing and supply issues. “I made the decision right away that we wouldn’t compromise on the quality or integrity of our product, and because of that, we delivered late on the first Kickstarter campaign,” says Hill. “We did our best to keep our backers informed during this process by implementing a weekly update. I believe managing the supply chain is key. We have been very fortunate to have a team of talented individuals as well as a community that has been very supportive of what we’re doing.”
In 2015, DrinkTanks was ready to bring their 128-ounce Juggernaut to market, and they decided to turn to Kickstarter again. This time they sought $75,000, and launched the campaign on March 2. Three days later, they posted this:
“We’ve hit our funding goal on our third day of being live!”
By the time the campaign closed on April 9, 2,076 backers had pledged $304,142. Now DrinkTanks is fulfilling supporter orders as well as orders from the general public. Word is even actor Tom Hanks has one, and in 2015 DrinkTanks was also named the Official Beer Growler of Central Oregon Beer Week.
“The joy of being a Kickstarter-launched company,” says Hill, “is that it’s gained us a worldwide group of supporters who’ve helped get us where we are today.
To date, DrinkTanks has shipped more than 45,000 64-ounce growlers and more than 28,000 Keg Caps. Juggernauts began shipping in September. The Kegulator will be available to backers and the public in January, but other DrinkTanks products are in stock for the holidays.
In the Wild
DrinkTanks customers have run a wide gamut, says Hill, from the weekend beer drinkers taking beer to a friend’s house to watch the game, to homebrewers force-carbonating small batches of brew. “We’ve also heard really good feedback from people who like to take their beer into the outdoors,” says Hill.
“The homebrewing community is very passionate about beer and has supported us from day one,” he adds. “They tend to really zero in on the technology and quality of our products — not that the average consumer wouldn’t — but they tend to be first adopters of new craft beer technology.” Customers point to the guaranteed no-leak lid, a threshold of 70-pounds of pressure and a lifetime warranty on manufacturer defects as positives.
Hill also carries his favorite beers in DrinkTanks growlers. “This time of year you’ll usually find my growler filled with Snake Bite Porter from Silver Moon, Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery or Lights Out Stout from Worthy Brewing.”
Currently, DrinkTanks products are available to order from its website, on Amazon.com, in more than 250 growler refilling stations and breweries throughout the region and at more than 100 outdoor retail stores and websites nationally, such as Sportsman’s Warehouse and Backcountry.com.
For Hill, he is focused on continuing to grow the company and pursue the perfection of their perfect growler. “I love that my beer will stay fresh all week,” says Hill. “When I fill my growler on Monday and get caught up with work until Thursday, my beer is still fresh.”
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Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.