By now you've certainly heard about Growlers and how they changed the face of craft brew bars across the nation, but there's a new product in town that may just unseat growlers in the near future. The Crowler is quickly growing in popularity as a better way of taking craft brews home, without the potential for mess that Growlers were plagued with.
What is a Beer Crowler?
The idea behind the beer crowler is similar to that off the growler, except it is in a can form. A crowler is a 32 ounce aluminum can used to package craft beers and allow people to transport them home. Growlers became wildly popular because craft beer fans were looking for a way to bring their favorite brews home for later in the day or the week. Unfortunately, sub-par manufacturing and sealing capabilities meant that the beer was often flat by the time it was revisited, or that it spilled in your bag on your way back. That's not to mention the poor heartbroken souls who accidentally dropped a growler and watched it shatter upon the floor, spilling beer in every direction. By contrast, a crowler offers a tight seal that won't allow any air or sunlight in to break down your beer. It is also more resilient to bouncing around in your bag as you travel.
A Quick History of Crowlers: Ball Corporation
The first crowlers can be traced back to Denver, CO and the Ball Corporation. Oscar Blues was the first craft brewery in the country to begin canning their beers back in 2002 while many in the craft brew game were still hemming and hawing about why glass bottles were better. Nevertheless, Oscar Blues pushed forward with cans and soon other craft breweries were discovering the benefits of using cans instead of bottles. When it became clear that customers wanted a takeaway option, the natural choice was to simply upsize the cans they were already using. Thus, Oscar Blues got in touch with the team at Ball Corporation to create a system that would allow them to package 32 ounce beer cans right behind the bar on demand. Ball Corporation is well known for their other food packaging products, and this concept was a hit! Now there are more than 600 craft breweries in the nation using their Crowler machines to offer beer on the go in a more modern form.
How to Buy Crowlers
If you've never purchased crowlers for your brewery before, you may be wondering where to begin. First you need to determine whether your can supplier can also give hook you up with crowler-sized cans. Next you'll need to decide on label designs that will fit your crowlers. You can choose from pressure sensitive labels as well as shrink labels to get the job done. Whatever you choose, you need a label machine that can work on-demand to meet the needs of your crowler customers. Remember, most customers are buying crowlers one at a time, but some customers will want to buy 3-5 crowlers to take home all of their favorites. Finally, you need to choose a quality canning machine to work with your crowlers specifically. Now that crowlers are growing in popularity, there are a wider variety of canning machines available for this process from trusted brands.
4 Benefits of Crowlers
There are a number of reasons that crowlers are quickly making their way into craft breweries across the US. These are the four main reasons customers prefer the crowler over other options:
- Air Tight Seal - The air tight seal formed by the canning machine means that carbonation is not allowed to seep out of the can as it sits in your fridge or as you travel. While growlers come with a variety of different flip top and screw on caps, none of them seal perfectly, so you can always count on losing some carbonation as time. The crowler solves this problem for you.
- Keeping Light Out - It quickly became apparent with glass growlers that too much sunlight was having a negative effect on the flavor of craft beers once they left the brewery. As a result, some companies started using dark glass to fight these effects, with limited effectiveness. The crowler is made of solid aluminum that reflects UV rays and heat, so you know that your beer is safe and sound inside.
- Keeping Things Fresh - The ultimate result is that your craft beer stays fresher longer. You no longer have to worry about drinking all the beer within a day or two to keep it from going flat. Now you can save it until you have reason to crack it open and celebrate!
- Convenience - Finally, there is a certain amount of convenience about the crowler that you simply can't get with a growler. It allows you to bring your beer home from the local brewery and drink it on your own time. It can withstand the pressures of traveling with ease, and you don't have to worry about washing it. Yet, you still get to watch the crowler get filled right behind the bar, so it's not the same as buying something off the shelf that's been sitting for a week or two in a warehouse.
How to Fill a Crowler
Filling a crowler is as simple as 1-2-3. Craft breweries needed a system that would allow them to fill crowlers at the bar without slowing them down. The machines make it possible to fill and seal a crowler in just a few seconds so you can move on to the next order.
- Fill your crowler with the beer of choice from your tap. Use the same technique that you always use to ensure you're filling it to the top with minimal foam.
- Lids are placed directly on the cans immediately after filling to minimize oxygen pickup (DO) and preserve the ideal carbonation level. The unit is then loaded into the seaming machine for sealing.
- Place your can on the platform and raise it up to meet the top cap. As you turn the lever, your can will come up to rest against the top cap and center itself for a perfect seal every time.
Then all you have to do is turn the machine on. It will begin spinning your can and two arms will press against the upper part of the can to seal the can for good. This process only takes about five seconds before the arms retract and you can remove the can from the machine. It is extremely easy to use and takes very little time to learn, and once the machine stops the can is sealed and ready to go.
Crowler Label Types
Naturally, you want your customers to remember what they're drinking after they've left your brewery. There are two simple ways to label your crowlers in advance so you can quickly grab a can and fill it without having to stop. This will make your brand more visible and encourage customers to keep coming back.
The simplest way to label your crowlers is with pressure sensitive labels. These labels can be applied using a semi-automatic labeling machine, so you can load up a batch of cans, get them labeled for the day and have plenty on hand for customers who want to purchase craft beers to do. If you need more throughout the day, you can easily load up another batch and label them as you go. The benefit of pressure sensitive labels is that they can come in any size, so you can scale up your labels to fill the entire 32 ounce can with ease. In addition, your labeling machine will ensure that all labels are place smoothly and cleanly so they won't fall off once the customer leaves. Some breweries have tried stick on labels at the bar to get the job done which usually leads to poor adhesion and missed opportunities for spreading the news about your brand.
The other method commonly used is shrink sleeve labels. Shrink sleeve labels tend to be more resilient toward spills, and can cover the entire surface of the can, including any contours around the top and bottom edges. Again you can choose shrink sleeve labels in a variety of sizes, and you can choose a shink sleeve applicator machine that allows you to easily run batches of crowlers for your bar as needed.
State and Local Regulations
Before you set out to purchase a crowler machine and suitable labeling machines to match, you need to check with your state and local governments about any regulations. Some areas have misleading laws about the "re-packaging" of tap beer which make it possible to pour beer into a growler without forming a permanent seal, but illegal to pour beer into a can and create a hard seal with a machine. Many breweries have won the right to use crowlers thus far, but others are caught up in legal battles over how crowlers are defined for retailers, brewers and bars.
Going forward, we expect to see Crowlers hitting more and more craft breweries as the machines become widely available. They offer a better experience than growlers in many ways, and they require minimal extra effort on the part of your team. Plus, you have more control over the branding of your crowler than you do over glass growlers that people often carry from one brewery to the next.