Kroger testing beer Crowler stations

Kroger testing beer Crowler stations

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Craft beer customers familiar with filling bottles known as “growlers” to hold beer drawn from the tap are being lured with the option of a can.

The 32-ounce, aluminum can filled and sealed on the spot for one-time use like any other beer can was developed by a Colorado craft brewery and has a trademarked name, the Crowler.

Kroger, the Cincinnati-based grocery chain with about $110 billion in sales for 2015, is testing the market for Crowlers at the 12-tap growler station in its new store in Memphis.

Feedback has been great as Kroger tests whether the investment is worth it, said Rachel Booker, adult beverage specialist for the Memphis-based Kroger Delta Division.

RELATED: Crowlers could mount a comeback, to the delight of beer fans

Meanwhile, less than a mile away, Joe’s Wines & Liquor has been offering Crowlers for about two years, said its owner, Brad Larson.

Joe’s added the can option with its 30-beer tap system, Larson said. Like other wine and liquor stores statewide, Joe’s was gearing up for competition with grocery stores, which were allowed to begin selling wine for the first time last July.

Joe’s customers are carrying out about 135 to 200 Crowlers a week and the cans hold their beer well longer than the growlers, he said.

“These will last, we’ve taken them up to three, four, five, six months, beer’s been good, so it’s a great way to do it,” Larson said.

Joe’s charges 75 cents for the Crowler can, not including the beer. Kroger doesn’t charge for the can, Booker said.

“Well, they’re a big company,” Larson said.

Both Kroger and Joe’s are using the Crowlers developed for the tasting room at Oskar Blues Brewery, based in Longmont, Colo.

“We’re in almost every state in the U.S., and if we’re not in that state it’s just due to laws and regulations, and then I believe we’re in about seven different countries now,” said Jason Dan, the Crowler spokesman at Oskar Blues.

The brewery began distributing its Crowlers in 2014 and has sold nearly 1,000 of the $3,900 machines that do the canning, Dan said.

Oskar Blues supplies “cans, lids, labels, machines, everything but the beer — but we can do the beer too if you need it,” he said.

Tennessee, with about 25 machines at work statewide, “has been a very large, emerging market for us,” Dan said.

Oskar Blues worked with the Colorado-based Ball Corp. to make the cans and Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, in Manitowoc, Wis., to produce the All American Crowler Sealer.

“It started off as a soup can sealer and then we modified it to be able to seal aluminum, 32-ounce beer cans,” he said.

Other companies offer other versions of the machinery. As a registered trademark for Ball, the word Crowler technically should be capitalized.

“We’re trying to get everybody to capitalize it, but in reality all you need is the registered trademark after the term ‘Crowler,’ just to show that Ball owns that term and it’s not a generic term,” Dan said.

The competition in Memphis to provide Crowlers, from the brewery’s point of view, is “fantastic,” he said. “More beer in more places for more people.”

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