Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Those aluminum cans in the photo above are much bigger than the 12-ounce cans you find in your average six-pack. They're 32-ounce cans, to be exact, and they were filled with fresh beer directly from the tap at the King Harbor tasting room, then promptly sealed for off-site consumption. Part can, part growler, the Crowler has landed in L.A.
The ability to take beer home from a taproom in a single-use container may sound like a no-brainer (since we can buy cans at the liquor store and all), but for anyone who has visited a California brewery and been forced to buy a glass growler before paying for the beer to fill it, the Crowler is utterly liberating.
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"Our new tasting room is in a touristy area and we get a lot of customers who want to take beer back home," says King Harbor founder Tom Dunbabin. "It's pointless for them to buy a $7 glass growler that doesn't travel well and will probably never get used again. We'd rather save our customers money by offering a no-cost-to-them package option."
King Harbor isn't the only L.A. brewery to offer Crowlers in addition to the regular growler option. Enegren Brewing in Moorpark was the first in the area to acquire the technology back in April, and Mumford Brewing opened its sleek Arts District tasting room last month with a Crowler-sealing machine. Several other local breweries are in the process of getting crowlers, which last at least two weeks in a fridge, compared with a growler's 72-hour shelf life.
The machine itself is from the minds of Colorado's Oskar Blues, the first brewery to can craft beer and the sole distributor of the Crowler sealer. After several years of development — mainly working with a foundry to convert a standard table-top, home-canning seamer into something that would seal aluminum cans on the fly — the brewery debuted the Crowler machine at its taproom in November 2013. (The name Crowler refers to the 32-ounce cans themselves, which are a registered trademark of their manufacturer, Ball Packaging.)
By last summer, Oskar Blues' ability to fill an empty can with draught beer, suck out the remaining CO2 and seal it in a matter of minutes had become so coveted by other breweries that Oskar Blues started selling the machines to others. An initial batch of about three dozen seamers went to breweries in Florida, California and Arizona. At least one more round of the foundry-made machines is known to have been sold. (Oskar Blues did not respond to requests for comment on how many are in the market today.)
"The Crowlers are the next big thing for brewery taprooms," says Mumford co-founder Tien Tran. "Customers love to see their beer canned right in front of them."
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At a cost of around $10 (King Harbor charges $12 for special releases), the Crowler will set you back less than it would cost for two pints of craft beer on draft at a bar, but it's more than you'd pay per ounce for most craft beer six-packs. Still, the Crowler is helpful for outdoorsy stuff, where regular growlers dare not go.
"The Crowler also allows people to ride beach cruisers, skateboard or walk to the brewery, grab a beer to take home and not have to worry about packing up an empty glass growler to bring with them and having to haul a full glass growler home," Dunbabin says. "The Crowler allows people to take home beer without having to plan for it."