Brewing potential

New beer growler laws could pave the way for small business development

For Manitoba craft beer enthusiasts, the most alluring aspect of the new draft beer growler bars is the low price. For small business owners, it’s the newly laid path to a less expensive method of distribution.

Traditionally associated with brewpubs and smaller craft microbreweries, a growler bar is a place where you can fill up a nearly two-litre jug of fresh, artisanal beer for a fraction of the cost for the canned or bottled equivalent. A six-month pilot period is underway to determine the level of public demand.

Noel Bernier, owner of Barley Brothers restaurant and pub is ecstatic about the new growler stations, located in five Liquor Marts and two beer vendors in Winnipeg and Brandon.

“(Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries) are showing that they’ll support independent breweries by retailing their product in this way, which’ll open doors for more small breweries,” Bernier says. “If I’m based in Woseley or the West End and I wanna open my little ultra-crafty, back office operation with really tiny production, I now know the MLCC is going to be there to retail it for me.

“I would imagine within five years, we’ll have at least five, if not 10 more breweries opening,” Bernier says.

Manitoba’s craft beer business seems a little behind the times. Fort Garry Brewing Company and Half Pints Brewing Company are the only microbreweries located in the province. However, there are nine microbreweries in North Dakota, with 48 in British Columbia and 116 in Ontario.

The growler prices range from $10.59 - $11.23 for a 1.89 liter refill, with the brown glass growler jugs selling for $4. Brown glass is considered superior to clear glass, as India Pale Ales are known to skunk, or go stale in the sunlight when stored in clear glass. Each filling station boasts four local craft brews on tap with spigots available for sampling.

But, how fresh is the beer? David Rudge, president of Half Pints Brewing Company, the lone local microbrewery with its doors open to the public, describes it as “the freshest beer you can possibly give your customer.”

Susan Harrison, senior communications co-ordinator for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries speaks highly of the science behind the fill process.

“The filling units inject C02 into the bottle and then the (brew) is introduced, so this process prevents oxygen from getting into the growler during filling,” she says.

When beer is exposed to oxygen, oxidation can be caused, which can make the brew become stale and lose flavour.

Manitoba Liquor Marts also reserve the right to refuse refill if the growler is damaged or unwashed. The fill stations even bear a list of growler etiquette instructions, which include the warning that beer should be consumed within two days of opening. 

Bernier is far more conservative, advising that growlers should not be stored for an extended period of time.

“A growler should always be for same day consumption,” Bernier says. “You open it, you drink it. If you’re not going to drink it that day, why are you buying a growler?”

Published in Volume 69, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 5, 2014)

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