Tapped In with Michael Deeds: Beer growler outlets explode in the Treasure Valley

mdeeds@idahostatesman.comJuly 4, 2014 

  • THE GROWLER STATION INVASION

    Here's a list of Treasure Valley locations featuring The Growler Station, which has popped up in gas stations and Albertsons:

    Gem Stop, 1520 S. Middleton Road, Nampa; Jackson's, 3110 W. State St., Boise, M&W Markets, 1835 Warm Springs Ave., Boise; North End Chevron, 1470 W. State St, Boise; Stinker Stores, 7681 Lemhi, Boise; Beacon Light Chevron, 12795 Idaho 55, Garden City; Gowen Chevron, 6450 S. Eisenman Road, Boise; Fast Eddy's, 1725 East Overland, Meridian; Fast Eddy's, 750 N. Ten Mile, Meridian; Fast Eddy's, 770 West Ustick, Meridian; Albertsons, 3614 W. State St., Boise.

Making a quick trip to pick up a gallon of milk? Might as well grab a half-gallon of craft beer, too.

Six Fred Meyer stores in the Treasure Valley plan to start filling growlers within the next eight weeks. Albertsons at 36th and State streets in Boise launched a growler counter last week.

Grocers filling growlers?

This turn of events can be viewed two ways: 1) Growlers have jumped the shark; 2) Growlers next to stacks of Charmin is the coolest thing ever.

I'm leaning toward the latter.

Growlers are reusable beer vessels usually filled at breweries and beer bars. After opening last summer, Pre Funk Bar at 1100 W. Front St. in Boise helped popularize growlers by making fills a priority with 25 rotating beers on tap.

California-based company The Growler Station has made it easy for other Idaho businesses to hop on the bandwagon. In recent months, its branded stations have appeared in 11 Valley locations ranging from gas stations such as Fast Eddy's, Stinker and Chevron to M&W grocery store.

Whole Foods has filled growlers in its River Room since it opened. And Bend, Ore.-based The Growler Guys - a company similar to The Growler Station - plans to open a couple of Boise-area locations soon.

The Growler Station at Albertsons is a pilot; it remains to be seen whether other Albertsons stores will follow. But Fred Meyer already fills growlers at four locations in Portland, making Boise look ripe for grocery-growler mania.

"If Portland is any indication, it's going to pay off huge," says Melinda Merrill, spokesperson for Fred Meyer stores. "It's really growing, really popular."

Freshness and choice make growlers appealing to consumers. Beers that aren't canned or bottled often are featured at growler stations. Albertsons carries eight rotating beers, and plans to offer one or two local choices at all times. Fred Meyer plans to have 10 beers.

Jordan Flynn, co-owner of Pre Funk, says he welcomes the proliferation of growler fill sites.

"We're not scared of competition," he says. "It's awesome to bring growlers out and make people more aware."

Flynn points out that growlers are environmentally friendly compared to cans and bottles.

"The more people take on growlers, the cleaner Boise will become, essentially," he says. "No cans, no cardboard."

Pre Funk plans to open a Nampa site at 1214 First St. in late July or early August. It will have 30 beers on tap. Locations also are coming in Meridian and Eagle, and Southeast Boise is being considered, Flynn says.

So is there a ceiling for this?

"I don't believe the Idaho market is anywhere close to being saturated at this point," says The Growler Station president and CEO Piero G. Broccardo. "It's gone crazy for us in Boise."

Both he and Flynn compare it to the coffee explosion of the past decade - and the fact that there's a Starbucks seemingly on every corner.

The growing accessibility of craft beer is changing the business dynamic for specialty stores such as beer market Brewforia. Its Eagle location closed March 1. And although growler sales have remained relatively steady at the Meridian store, beer sales across the board have "dropped off dramatically" in the last 18 months, owner Rick Boyd says.

Broccardo views the spread of growler fill stations as a natural evolution.

"It's a convenience system," he says. "You want that growler station within five minutes of a home or office. People are not going to drive 15 minutes for a growler."

The Growler Station outlets vary their beer selection based on clientele, demographics and region. Albertsons' debut included a spendy beer, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, which costs $16.99 for a 64-ounce fill. At press time, the most expensive beer at the Jacksons Growler Station a few blocks away was Oakshire Brewing's Watershed IPA at $10.99. On the lower end was Deschutes Brewery's Fresh Squeezed IPA at $8.99 (a fantastic summer IPA).

The best-selling beer so far at The Growler Station locations in the Treasure Valley? Mac and Jack's African Amber Ale, brewed in Redmond, Wash.

"I have no clue why, but everyone in Idaho loves Mac and Jack's," Broccardo says. "I've never drank it. It's at every single Growler Station you can find.

"It must be a phenomenal beer."

The $8.99 price tag might also have something to do with it.

Either way, if more growler fill stations opening in Idaho means more craft beer being sold, local brewers stand to benefit.

"It's nice for us," agrees Todd Marshall, brewery representative at Boise's Sockeye Brewing Co.

Things might even get respectfully combative among Idaho's buddy-like breweries as they vie for more spots at growler outlets.

"It's very competitive," Marshall says. "It is a community, don't get me wrong, but everybody wants to see more of their (tap) handles than the other."

With craft beer flowing like a tidal wave, there has to be an end somewhere over the horizon. Location could impact the success of certain growler fill destinations.

"I think the biggest test is going to be Pre Funk opening in Nampa," Boyd says. "If they can (succeed there), then that's going to tell us a lot."

Marshall says he never would have imagined five years ago how many breweries would open in the Boise area. So maybe there's room for all these growler meccas.

"You want to say you hope it keeps growing," he says. "But I think at some point a roof's got to be reached.

"Hopefully, the bubble never bursts," he adds. "We love it - the more the better for us. But then again, there's the chance of watering something down."

One thing is certain: Boise's taste is moving away from watery beer.

Michael Deeds: mdeeds@idahostatesman.com, Twitter: @IDS_Deeds

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