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The Growth of Beer Growlers

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For the history books, it was House Bill 31—an act to amend Title 4 of the Delaware code relating to alcoholic liquors and the fillings of growlers—that made growlers official. After passing through the state General Assembly with unanimous votes, the bill was signed by Gov. Jack Markell on May 16, 2013, from inside Coastal Brewing Co. in Dover. The law allowed for permitted Delaware liquor stores and bars to begin filling and selling the 64-ounce glass, to-go jugs from fresh drafts onsite.

Before HB 31, growlers were only available at breweries and brewpubs—and from many liquor stores in neighboring states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For the growing hordes of craft-beer geeks in Delaware, and those just getting their feet wet, growlers are a game-changer. Filled and capped by human hands, they add a dash of personality and theater to the beer-buying experience. Others say beer simply tastes better in draft form.

For a small investment, customers can dive into a new or exotic beer without having to commit to a six-pack. For the more erudite beer drinkers, growler stations provide an outlet to indulge on a deeper level. Quite often, the mini-kegs and sixtels used to fill growlers contain the small-batch, hard-to-find or experimental beer varieties that have yet to make the leap into bottles and onto store shelves. Milford’s upstart Mispillion River Brewing Company, for instance, brews just a handful of beers for canning or bottling and distribution via its 15-barrel brewing.

But like many small brewing operations, Mispillion also utilizes an additional one-barrel brewing system that churns out fun, strange or one-off recipes for sale inside the on-site tasting room. In barely a year of existence, Mispillion has created more than 60 “tasting-room exclusives” that range from Glendora Oatmeal Stout to Mildly Interesting English Mild. These—and others, like Twin Lakes’ Tweeds Tavern Stout or Dogfish Head’s Firefly Ale—are the sort of beers one might find at a local growler station, says Ed Mulvihill, director of sales and marketing at his family’s historic Peco’s Liquor Store near Bellefonte. “Craft-beer guys aren’t like the rest,” he says. “They want to hop around, try different things. It’s interesting to see how that dynamic plays out.”Mulvihill, along with state Rep. (and Peco’s customer) Debra Heffernan, were instrumental in getting the growler legislation in motion.

Other liquor stores where craft beer plays prominence—like Kreston’s Wine & Spirits in Wilmington and Liquor Depot in Dover—helped spur the grassroots push. “We absolutely wanted it, and we were leading the charge to make the change,” says Bill Cannon, who manages Liquor Depot. “It brings more attention to our craft-beer business.” At Peco’s, growlers have become the store’s best-selling product since it added 1,200 square feet of space to accommodate a 12-tap growler station. “It’s just a really exciting time to be involved in the craft-beer wave,” Mulvihill says. “And the tip of the iceberg is growlers.”

Photo by Kevin Flemming

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