Growler stores are going flat

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

beer with frame

My first growler of Ommegang. Now I’m buying bottles.

I walked out of Pop’s Wine and Spirits the other night with two six-packs of bottled beer. The store on Peachtree Parkway has become a somewhat regular stop for me now, meaning once or twice a month. Their beer selection is among the best around, with most Atlanta-area micro breweries well represented in their cooler.

One of my selections this week really stuck with me. It was Ommegang’s Abbey Ale, a dark and malty Belgium-style beer I first tried at a growler store. And now I’m buying it in bottles.

And so goes the way of the growler store. The bubble has burst over this little craze that started about two and a half years ago. Two growler stores have gone bust – Blind Murphy in Alpharetta and Tap It Growlers on McGinnis Ferry. Others will follow. And their demise may be the simple bottle of beer that’s been with us the entire time.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a growler. The stores offer the best service you’re going to find. They lead me to discover a style of beer I never thought I would enjoy. I now love rich, malty beers that are deep with caramel flavors. And I’m completely turned on to craft beer markers who experiment with the style. Monday Night’s rendition, the Drafty Kilt, is by far my favorite Atlanta-area microbrew. I’d have never known about it were it not for growler stores.

But I’m buying it in bottles. Why? Because it’s almost always available and in-stock. A growler store with 20 to 40 taps can’t always have my favorites pouring. It’s also a bit cheaper in the bottle. For nine or ten bucks I can get a six-pack of my favorite. That’s 72 ounces of beer versus 64 in a growler. And I’ve got to polish off that growler in 48 hours or it’ll be flat. My bottles afford me weeks or months before going bad.

Granted there are a few beers only available in kegs. Big Creek Kolsh, my favorite Alpharetta-area beer from Jekyll Brewing, is only in kegs at this time. Same goes for Cherry Street’s brews.

And the growler stores still offer samples. Most cities have carefully crafted these rules just for growler stores. I say careful because they must skirt the line between consumption on premises and selling by the package, something Georgia law separates.

But those same laws usually require growlers to be sold in specialty shops. The result is a handful of one-trick pony retailers selling a dying fad of a product. This can’t end well.

Do you still fill your jugs of beer at growler stores, or are bottles the way to go?

11 Responses to “Growler stores are going flat”

  1. Paul May 23, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    The craft beer market is booming and the growler stores are closing up shop. I claimed this would happen 2 years ago when I saw 3 growler stores pop up within a 2 mile radius. Secondly… a Kolsch? Jekyll does make a good kolsch… I agree, but at the end of the day its still a kolsch and is right up there with the popular domestics.

  2. Cool Papa Bell May 23, 2014 at 9:22 am #

    This is not true at all about Cherry Street. I’ve enjoyed their coconut porter and IPA in growlers. No. 28, another brew I have not had from them is on today’s menu. http://www.thebeergrowler.net/app/menu.php?menu_active=0&current_loc=39

  3. Paul May 23, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    @Cool Papa Bell…

    The reason you have enjoyed it in a growler is because it only comes in Kegs. as the article stated. Then the keg beer is poured into a growler. Cherry street cannot bottle and distribute outside of a growler. You don’t need a bottling license to pour from the keg to a growler.

  4. Will B May 23, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I’ve been to a growler store twice since Blind Murphy’s closed. I can find what I liked at Blind Murphy’s for the most part in bottles at local stores. That being said, I haven’t gotten the opportunity to try new beers like I used to, unless I goto Taco Mac…

  5. DoubleDach May 23, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    It’s more of a distribution issue than a cost or over-saturation issue. It’s seriously discouraging to look at a growler menu full of lame selections and beers you could just pick up at Kroger in bottle. On the other hand, when the selection is full of special brews not available elsewhere I’m happy to stop and fork over the premium price to try something special.

    If our growler stores were able to get the rare selections like you see at some of the better beer bars (or even tmac) in the area people would be more encouraged to make the stop.

  6. Matt L May 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Blind Murphy’s owner started GEER beer and Naughty Soda.

  7. Cool Papa Bell May 23, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Paul, my bad. Memories of keg parties had me thinking “the public can only get a keg,” but yes obviously he meant, “not available in a bottle.” I was hungover when I read it I think.

  8. Peter Medellin May 23, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    I respectfully disagree. Growler beer tastes a lot fresher than what you get in the bottle. If you can’t drink the growler in 48 hours, then maybe you are not the type of customer that growler stores are targeting…..

  9. Roman May 24, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    Hello Roots!

    I’ve been a reader of your blog. You have some great local content!

    I’m a co-owner at Draft Beer Market (www.draftbeermarket.com) a 60 tap growler store here in Johns Creek, as well as Royal Liquor Store in Alpharetta. So I can see your perspective from both sides regarding bottles vs growlers. The advantage that growlers have is-

    1. The quality of draft beer- carbonation is much better, the beer is not damaged by light in a keg, the kegs are usually much much fresher in terms of production dates, etc. (I will offer you a sample of a bottle vs draft of Drafty Kilt to compare, we have it on tap consistently)
    2. Our growler prices are usually the same as a 6pk of the same beer, I understand that some growler stores are much higher in prices.
    3. The best aspect is that you get to sample different beers so that you don’t have to judge a book by it’s cover in your beer decision, as is sometimes done while steering the local grocery or liquor store beer door aisle. Those 4 FREE samples that we offer can add up to $1-$2 cost for us, especially if you were to try some of the expensive Belgians, this is a loss we will take.

    So basically we offer you a better product, at the same price, if not better, as in some of the more limited releases that are only available in 4pks/22oz/750ML bottles, but you also have the option to sample different craft beers before you make your final decision. How is that not better than purchasing a 6pk at the local bottle / grocery shop? Yes you have to drink it within 48-60 hours, but that is why there are smaller growler sizes.. but essentially this is a sacrifice that has to be made to drink the best quality beer that is available out there.

    Here is the best comparison I can make- you can go to McDonalds and purchase a Big Mc or you can go to your local Steakhouse and order a prime rib. Growler vs Bottles

  10. JC May 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    Just to reiterate what Matt L. said: I thought the reason that Blind Murphy’s folded was because Georgia law stated that the owner couldn’t own a brewery and a growler store. Now he has a brewery. That might indicate then that only one store has folded for economic reasons, and one does not equal a pattern. I’m not surprised to see some settling in the market, and I hope that growler stores stay around (although, admittedly, I don’t frequent them often).

  11. Harry Paratestes April 27, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    Obviously you don’t know much about beer. Growler shops sell beer that’s kegged and actually fairly fresh. Check the dates on your Kroger IPA sometime and you will see that it’s six months if not over a year old. Draft is a superior medium to consume beer.

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