By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The sparkling idea old Joe Priestley had back in 1767 didn't reach its most useful purpose until 2014.
It was 247 years ago when the chemist, who lived next to a brewery and began experimenting with their gas in Leeds, England, made carbonated water. But he stopped there. Making draft beer portable would have to wait.
As you know, beer naturally carbonates during fermentation; yeast eats sugar, making alcohol and carbon dioxide. Problem is that when you take the beer out of the barrel, air gets in and spoils the brew. So to take Joe’s discovery a step further, someone would need to fill that empty space in a barrel with what was called “fixed air” and preserve the freshness. Eventually this would lead to kegs — big kegs for taverns and pubs, pony kegs, Cornelius kegs, none of which are very portable. They are heavy and require attached external devices to get the beer out. But jump ahead to modern times at a bar in Portland and you’ll find another option.
“To keep good beer from going bad.” That’s what I told the guy on the stool next to me when he asked why I paid $149 for the stainless steel uKeg the ponytailed bartender at the Widmer Pub in North Portland was filling with Altbier. When I went on to explain that the uKeg is easy to use and keeps beer fresh for up to two weeks, he chuckled and said, “Who keeps beer around that long?” So, I asked him, “Haven't you ever had a beer you wanted to enjoy a little at a time, a seasonal release or, maybe, after you fill a growler you don’t feel like drinking it all in a couple of days?” “Well,” he said, “how do they keep beer fresh in that big can?”
This is where a trip to an Oregon beach comes in.
“I brought a glass growler and a cooler.” Standing in the front office of GrowlerWerks in Southeast Portland, Shawn Huff recalls how inspiration for the uKeg came from the good beer he’d put in his glass growler. “It was a Boneyard RPM IPA. I drank it one day, put it down, didn't drink the second day and then pulled it back out on the third day. It was flat. It was oxidized. All the work the brewer put into that IPA was ruined.”
So, I was thinking — pressurized growler,” Shawn Huff explains. “I saw some other people were doing it, but no one really from an engineering design perspective.”
Engineers! Brewers get a lot of attention. But who knows the engineers? Meet three you should know: Huff, Brian Sonnichsen and Evan Rege. (Evan was at a manufacturing plant in China when I visited the GrowlerWerks research-and-development warehouse.) Brian explains they met while working for ClearEdge Power, an alternative-energy company. He says Shawn’s idea for a pressurized growler came at just the right time.
“ClearEdge Power went out of business as we were working on this as an after-hours hobby, trying to figure out how to make it work.” Brian has a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 13 patents to his credit. Evan has a UC Berkeley degree in mechanical design and knows how to build fuel cells. Shawn owns four patents and is a chemical engineer; but, just as important, he won a business plan competition in college. All of that schooling and experience set them up for a dive into entrepreneurship. Brian says they figured, “What the heck? Let’s try this for six months because we can. There’s a program in Oregon that will let you start a business and you don’t have to look for a job for six months. It worked out fantastically.”
Some of the technology involved in making the uKeg is confidential and now being patented in both the U.S. and overseas. But when Brian and Shawn share what they can about how the uKeg works, it sounds simple.
“This is a double-walled, insulated vessel, so it keeps beer cold.” Shawn points out the first thing you’ll probably notice about the uKeg is a brass pipe climbing from the bottom of the vessel to a mini-tap at the top. “We go through the vessel so the beer exits from the bottom.”
Putting the tap on top means they can store a CO2 cartridge inside the variable pressure-regulation cap. “What that allows is you can put the top on, and once it is on you can set this dial and it automatically maintains your carbonation level. So all you have to do is pour.”
Thumbing through the owner’s manual that comes with the uKeg, Brian points out various carbonation settings, from 6 pounds per square inch (PSI) for stout, porter and cream ale to 12 PSI for lager, pilsner or even kombucha. A window on what they call the “sight tube” shows how much beer is in the uKeg. You can check it before you grab the brass handle provided for making your fresh draft beer portable.
“Our brand,” Brian reminds us, “is keeping beer fresh and being able to take it with you.”
Joe Priestley would be proud.
The GrowlerWerks trio has encountered some interesting liquor laws as they’ve moved into new markets. In Florida, there was a law allowing for gallon-sized growler fills, but not half-gallon sizes. In another state, the tap on a freshly filled growler had to be shrink-wrapped to prevent customers from pouring while driving. And when beer drinkers in Japan received the growlers they were due as part of the Kickstarter campaign, they found that Japanese law does not allow for growler fills.
For more information on the uKeg, go to growlerwerks.com.
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 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.”
[a] 1375 SW Commerce Ave. #160, Bend
Follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more @drinktanks
64 Taphouse & Growler Station owners Lorraine Lyons and Rod Steward are pictured behind the bar of their business, which opened in early May. Beer availability is displayed via DigitalPour technology and the taster trays are made from reclaimed wood, like much of the shop’s decor. Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Choose your pour ahead of time, or announce it to the world. 64 Taphouse & Growler Station in Hood River lets you anticipate and share what you’re drinking via social media.
Lorraine Lyons and Rod Steward opened 64 in early May at 110 Third St. in the heart of downtown. The new business is open 11:30 a.m. until a “to-be-determined” closing time, seven days a week.
Lyons and Steward installed a DigitalPour system, which registers and tracks each keg in real time, subtracts the number of ounces drawn with each sale, and once the given beer gets low, alerts both barkeep and customer.
“It shows what’s tapping and what is about to blow,” Steward said.
Customers can also log in via Twitter or smartphone apps such as Untappd, see what’s available and post photos and comments on pours enjoyed, which are visible on the digital tap board for all to see. The notification stays up for a day or so.
The technology is familiar at some Portland taprooms, but it’s a first for Hood River.
Steward said, “When I sell a beer in the register it will update it, and with our Monday-to-Friday 4-6 happy hour, it automatically adjusts all the prices.” He can also program it to let customers know what’s tapping in the days to come.
The 30 taps at 64 include a variety of Northwest ales, a nitro and a regular selection of four or more ciders. Enjoy a pint in or take it to go; growler fills are mostly in the $11-12 range, depending on the selection. Glass growlers, both 32- and 64-ounce containers, are available for $4 and $6, respectively. The business also sells other beer-related gear, including T-shirts and pint glasses.
64 is centrally situated among downtown breweries and taprooms, but it is the first full-scale growler station in this beer-centric burg. “We’re dedicated to the concept. You can come in and sit down at a table or pull up to a loading zone, stop, come in and get out,” Lyons said. Amenities include sidewalk, bar and mezzanine seating that is secluded while offering a top-down view of the store overlooking the massive cooler.
Lyons, an insurance consultant, and Steward, a drummer and former IT guy, bring their love of craft beer to the shop they hope will be “a comfortable community spot.” Li ve music is planned and snacks are available. However, take-in food from downtown restaurants and food trucks is encouraged.
64 Taphouse & Growler Station
[a] 110 3rd St., Hood River
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
As a server at a growler fill station, I thought I’d seen every type of growler: ceramic ones fancier than my serving dishes, collegiate ones that look like glow sticks, stainless ones that mimic kegs. One day, that all changed when a regular customer waltzed on in with a plastic — yep, plastic — growler.
Before you start thinking he tried to bring in an old gallon jug that once held 2 percent milk, I can assure you it was a genuine, 64-ounce amber-colored growler begging to be filled with delicious beer.
The particular growler in question came from Growler University in Eugene — the only place in Oregon I’ve seen that carries them so far — but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start popping up all over the state within the next few months.
What I am stunned by, however, is the fact that with about a dozen plastics manufacturers in Oregon, these PET growlers have yet to actually be made in the state, as far as I know. With Oregon having such a huge growler scene, I’m hoping this story will inspire a local plastics manufacturer to get busy so that us beer lovers can continue to support our local economy.
Plastic is cheaper. Growler University — which has been carrying these growlers since August 2014 — usually sells them for $5 each, but often runs promotions which allow them to be sold for only $1 a piece with a fill. Since Growler University’s standard glass growlers sell for $6 (with some fill stations or breweries charging more than that), plastic takes the award for most budget friendly.
A cool — literally — feature of some plastic growlers is the temporary “deformation” that occurs to make more room for pressure that builds up if the beer becomes too warm. Some manufacturers have created patented side gripper areas that will actually bulge out if the beer warms up to 50 degrees or more, letting you know it’s time to put the beer back in the fridge. The bottle will then return to its original shape when cooled back down again.
Plastic growlers can be taken anywhere glass is neither allowed nor desired: pools, rivers, beaches and parks, to name a few. Because, guess what? They don’t break when you drop them. I’ve had my fair share of customers, with an intense look of despair on their faces, hand over a dozen pieces of what used to be one glass growler after it fell out of the back of their truck on their way in to come get a refill.
With Oregon being such a “green” state, the mixed concerns about plastic’s effects on the environment or leaching chemicals are worth noting. I consider myself to be a bit of a tree hugger, so I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about plastic, but I’m pleased to note that if you choose a PET growler, it is not only BPA-free, but also fully recyclable. Additionally, plastic growlers weigh less than their glass counterparts, which can translate to fewer environmental impacts.
Plastic is more susceptible to scratches than glass. When it comes to bottling their latest homebrew, most brewers have no complaints about using plastic as long as it’s amber-colored and kept cool. However, when the plastic on the inside begins to get scratched or worn, that’s when dreaded bacteria can begin to thrive. It’s a big no-no for brewers and for you as a growler consumer; it will break down the quality of your beer and cause the container to hold on to flavors.
Plastic is not ideal for long-term storage because it is permeable to oxygen. If you’re planning on stashing that limited-release bourbon-barrel-aged stout in your fridge for longer than a week, a glass growler is going to be your best bet.
Conclusion & Tips
When I asked my customer about some common concerns beer drinkers seem to have about switching to plastic, I was only met with positive feedback. He said he wasn’t worried about any plastic taste passing on to his beer because, for some strange reason, the lovely liquid inside never seems to stay in the growler long enough for any “off” taste to transfer over.
My tips for plastic growler care are simple. Rinse them out with plain hot water and air-dry with the cap off, keep them out of direct sunlight, and don’t keep the same beer in there for more than a week. You can reuse plastic growlers just as you would a glass growler, but if it starts to get worn or scratched, don’t forget to recycle it. My final and most important tip for you: Enjoy what’s inside!
I’m not much of a betting woman, but if I were, I’d say plastic growlers are here to stay. I’ll admit: I was unsure at first about these new guys on the block. To be honest, they kind of reminded me of an industrial-sized cough syrup bottle or an iced tea jug. But, I’m really becoming a fan. From a server’s standpoint, they’re easier to handle, so I don’t have to worry about being klutzy. And from a consumer’s standpoint, as long as my pints of pumpkin peach ale still taste wonderful, that’s all I really care about at the end of the day.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.