“Welcome to the future,” Greg Shuff, owner of DryHop Brewers in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, said as he approached his brewery’s new toy.
He grabbed a disarmingly large 32-ounce aluminum can still missing a lid — the can was about the size of a baby’s leg — and raised it to one of his six taps. He filled the can with Comrade Mendeleev, a moderate-alcohol porter, until the beer’s thin foamy head bubbled just over the lip of the can.
Oskar Blues, the Colorado brewery that helped spark the canned craft beer movement, introduced the 32-ounce poured-to-order can, called a crowler, this year. It also began offering the technology to other breweries. DryHop is the first in Chicago to sell the cans.
The cans will replace DryHop’s slightly larger glass howlers that Shuff said he rarely sells; the classic 64-ounce growler (which will remain at DryHop) outsells his 34-ounce howler 4-to-1, he said.
The 32-ounce can offers plenty of advantages over the howler: The aluminum is more effective at blocking light (public enemy No. 1 for beer) and, provided it is filled correctly, oxygenation; they don’t need to be cleaned out like growlers and howlers; and for the consumer, the beer will keep far longer and is easier to transport. (For instance, getting beer home from distant locations will be much less perilous.)
DryHop plans to charge between $6 and $12 per can; most fills will cost between $6 and $8.
The question is whether Shuff was right when he called crowlers “the future.” Craft brewers have embraced many shapes and sizes, including 12-ounce cans and bottles, 16-ounce cans, 22-ounce bottles, 750-milliliter bottles and 64-ounce growlers.
Jeremy Rudolf, production manager at Oskar Blues, said sales of the crowler starter package (the $3,000 machine plus cans and lids) has exceeded expectations. Tampa Bay’s Cigar City is one of the craft breweries that has bought a crowler setup.
“The list is growing,” Rudolf said. “Originally the idea was just for tap rooms, but it’s evolving into something that a lot of people were looking for. They just didn’t know it.”