Best Practices For Filling Growlers And Crowlers
The pandemic taught breweries the importance of diversifying their revenue streams and highlighted consumer interest in taking the party home with them. In addition to four and six packs of beer to go, breweries often offer crowlers and even the old standby growlers. We spoke with draft beer expert Neil Witte, the Associate Director of Exams at Cicerone and the owner of Craft Quality Solutions, a consulting and draft services business in Kansas City, about best practices for packaging beer to go.
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Don’t Fill Them In Advance And Avoid Reusing Packages
Witte recommends that breweries filling either growlers or crowlers master the basics of the operation to ensure the best beer experience for their customers. Regardless of whether you are using a simple tube and filling the package by gravity or have invested some money in a counterpressure filler, both growlers and crowlers have a short shelf life and should be filled to demand. “I am really not a big fan of filling these in advance, unless you know that you’re going to sell X amount within the next few hours,” Witte says. “Even if you’re filling in the morning and you know you’re gonna sell them that day with your last predicted sale that night, well, you’ve already lost the better part of the day. So you’re already shortening what is already a very short shelf life on these things.”
Witte also counsels against breweries reusing growlers or filling customer growlers, a practice he says is in sharp decline. He notes that growlers are notoriously difficult to clean unless you have specialized brushes or equipment and that such cleaning can weaken the glass. “Best practice is just to use a new vessel each time,” he says.
When it comes to filling both growlers and crowlers, Witte says that breweries should focus on two things: purging the vessel with CO2 and filling it with as little waste as possible. “Keeping oxygen out of it, to the degree that a professional packaging line does, is basically impossible,” Witte notes. “But you can minimize it greatly and make a difference between something that’s going to last a day and something that’s gonna last maybe three days. You’ll extend the shelf life a decent amount for your customers and sometimes that makes all the difference.”
The first step Witte recommends is that breweries pre-rinse the crowler or growler to clear the package of dust or other debris and also help cool the container and minimize foam creation. A pre-rinse also helps condition the surface of the vessel to discourage foaming. “Conditioning of the surface means that if you’ve got a dry surface, when the draft beer hits it, you’ve got a little bit of friction there that breaks out CO2,” Witte explains. “And when you get CO2 breakout when you’re pouring, it can turn into a chain reaction. You can have clear beer going on top of actively foaming beer and then it just turns into more foam. So wetting the surface cools the container, minimizes foam, and then you get the purge.”
Breweries also need a way to purge oxygen from the bottom, which could involve a wand or hose administering a low pressure five to ten second CO2 purge and then filling the package the same way you would a glass of draft beer, except try to avoid head on the beer. When it comes to growlers, Witte recommends that breweries filling directly from the tap use a tube to fill the package from the bottom up. For crowlers, you can pour down the side just as you would with a pint of beer. Witte recommends filling crowlers as near to the top as possible and then floating the lid on foam before seaming the container. For growlers, Witte suggests leaving a little headspace at the top as the packages are usually not designed to hold pressure.
Customer Education Is Key
“It’s easy to make a whole list of things that you need to do to make sure that the beer you’re sending out the door is in good condition,” Witte says. “But once it leaves your establishment, somebody else is handling it. So a little bit of education there is important. This is not like packaged beer you buy at the liquor store, it’s different and needs to be treated differently, and has a lot shorter shelf life. A lot of people don’t understand that.” He recommends telling customers to keep the containers out of direct sunlight, not to leave them in the car, and keep them refrigerated for best results.
Witte also recommends that breweries tell their customers to drink these packaged beers quickly. “The average consumer doesn’t necessarily know what the shelf life of a growler or crowler should be,” he says. “So the assumption that a lot of people have is that they can sit on these things the same way they sit on a six pack of beer and it’s just not the case. So filling in advance is not a great idea.” He says the rule of thumb is to tell consumers to drink the beer within three days for both growlers and crowlers. Witte recommends reminding consumers that once they open the package, to drink it in one sitting, ideally with friends. “Once you open it, and you drink half of it, and then you close it back up, now you’ve really introduced oxygen, and the clock is ticking,” he says. “That consumer education piece is really critical.”
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