Back at the turn of the century, in Beerland, the liquor store run by the Cecil Hotel in downtown Calgary, they used to sell undistinguished, but fresh draft by the litre-provided you brought in your own vessel. You walked up to the tap, got your bottle filled, and paid at the cashier – not unlike filling up a soft drink at a convenience store. Alas, Beerland and the Cecil are no more, but who would have thought they were ahead of their time?
Yes, the “Age of the Growler” has arrived in Calgary. Essentially, a Growler is (usually) a 1.89 L glass jug with a screw-on cap used to transport “take-out” draft beer from breweries, brewpubs, and retail stores. The derivation of the name is unknown, but it has been around for a couple of centuries and relates either to the growling sound caused by the release of the CO2 from pails of beer taken home from breweries in the days before modern bottling lines became common, or it was named after the buckets of beer which factory workers were given before their stomachs began to “growl” from hunger.
Bottling lines of the 20th century brewery made the growler obsolete, but the rebirth of craft breweries has brought about its resurrection. The modern growler was reintroduced in 1989 at the Otto Brothers Brewery of Wyoming and has exploded in popularity along with the growth of craft beer. New, small breweries are often tight on cash, so a bottling (or canning) line, and associated bottles, cans, labels, caps, cartons, pallets, etc. are an expensive proposition.
Since they usually only distribute locally in the beginning, kegs take care of the bar business, and growlers allow customers to take the beer home, clean it themselves, and come back and get it refilled. Growlers get filled straight from a tap, and are then sealed with a twist-cap.
While not all beers are the same price, most growlers cost around $20-$25 filled and often include a deposit, but are cheaper upon refilling. A growler and its one-litre cousin, the “howler” will last about 7-10 days unopened, and 2-3 days after the first beer is poured. The other advantage is most places will let you try a small sample of the beer before you buy. Look for more and more locations to add growler stations in 2015.
Where to find growlers in Calgary
Liquor Depot has the most expansive line of growler stations, with 17 locations currently in the province. Four are in Calgary and they usually rotate their taps at least monthly.
Empty growlers are $4, howlers are $3.49
Liquor Depot at Mount Royal, 1140 – 17th Avenue SW
Liquor Depot at Brentwood, 750, 3630 Brentwood Rd. NW
Liquor Depot at Woodbine, 2525 Woodview Drive SW
Liquor Depot at Altador, #1 3514 19 St. SW
5 Vines, 218 12 Ave. SE
Located in the Beltline near Stampede Park, they have 6 taps which rotate weekly.
Empty growlers are $8, howlers are $4.
Vine Arts, 1310 1 St. SW
Currently offering five taps. Growlers cost $10 and taps change frequently.
Village Brewery, 5000 12A St SE
Bring in one of their growlers purchased from any liquor store location and they will refill it for $5 off the regular price.
17th Ave. Liquor Boutique, 519 17th Ave. S.W.
This new store opened in December 2014 with a custom-built counter pressure growler station that looks like a mini transporter room from Star Trek. Their eight taps rotate every couple of weeks and will expand to 32 taps by the summer, which will make them the largest station in Calgary.
They sell growlers for $5 and fill them for $10-$20 depending on beer.
Big Rock Brewery, 5555 – 76TH Ave. S.E.
Calgary’s oldest brewery started a new growler program in 2014.
New growlers are $13 and cost $10 to refill. They have four varieties available and change often.
Tool Shed Brewing, 801 30 St. N.E.
One of Calgary’s new breweries will have their growler station set up in 2015.
Three breweries located near Calgary also have growler programs. Check out Grizzly Paw in Canmore (thegrizzlypaw.com), Fernie Brewing (ferniebrewing.com) and later in 2015, Half Hitch Brewing in Cochrane (halfhitchbrewing.ca), which already have their growlers made. Now they just need the beer…
Wild Rose Tap Room, located in Currie Barracks in building AF23, have a growler that is an animal of a different sort. Literally. The Party Pig is a mini-keg, equivalent to 25 bottles, that contains a self-pressurized bladder that inflates as it is filled, giving it a shelf life of four to six weeks. The cost is $55 plus a $40 refundable deposit for a full Pig, which you can either return for the deposit, or buy another for $55. wildrosebrewery.com