Fresh from the tap, sealed and delivered to your door – and you can drink some, reseal it and finish later. Welcome to the latest innovation in craft beer consumption.
In 2006, the New Zealand Herald confidently predicted the demise of the flagon. Once a staple of the Kiwi beer drinker, the fill-your-own vessels were going the way of the dodo, according to the story, as younger drinkers opted for more “fashionable” big-name green bottles. Fewer and fewer liquor stores were installing taps, and soon they’d be gone altogether, predicted representatives from Lion and DB.
Oh, how wrong they were. These days, any craft beer drinker worth their salt will tell you that fill-your-own is an increasingly big deal, ensuring fresh, top-quality beer and also allowing at-home drinkers to sample brewers’ limited edition, keg-only offerings.
“It’s always going to be fresher off tap,” says Georgia Davies, Fine Wine Delivery Co’s beer ambassador. “It’s just the way it is. When you’re putting beer into bottles and cans you’re letting oxygen get into it, which is not something you can help.”
With draft beer, however, the beer is going directly from the tank in the brewery to a keg without any oxygen touching it – and oxygen is beer’s worst enemy. “It always tastes fresher because of that,” says Davies. “Also, any beer in a keg is not going to be older than a month, whereas beer you’re getting in cans or bottles will have a six-month shelf life at the least.”
The United States, which has been at the forefront of the craft beer movement since the word go, is where the renewed enthusiasm for tap beer started. That’s also where the word growler – no sniggering, please, it’s the preferred term for the flagon these days – comes from too. Rather than being some trendy neologism, it in fact dates back to the 1800s, when beer was taken home in a pail. Apparently the noise it made sloshing around gave rise to the name ‘growler’.
Growlers come in a range of forms, most commonly refillable glass jugs with a handle and a lid, often branded by the brewery or liquor retailer selling them (you can even get personalised ones!). But in the past few years, another product has been threatening to steal the growler’s crown: the Crowler. The what now? That’s right, the Crowler – a giant can-growler hybrid that was pioneered by Colorado brewery Oskar Blues, which, in conjunction with container company Ball (which trademarked the name in 2014), developed a special machine that seals the Crowler on the spot, directly after filling, meaning it works essentially like a mini keg. It’s opened with the usual pull tab that you get on a can of beer or soft drink.
The benefits of the Crowler, which holds 946ml, are many: these days, cans are generally regarded to be the best material for ensuring your beer remains in optimum condition, preventing oxygen and light getting to your beer. So with the Crowler, you get the freshness of tap beer with the peace of mind of the can. They also keep the beer fresher for longer: with a glass growler, you’re looking at a few days max, but beer in a Crowler should be good for at least a couple of weeks. Being brand new, they also ensure the beer gets to the customer in peak condition rather than runs the risk of being contaminated by a grubby growler.
Fine Wine Delivery Co has had beer on tap at its two Auckland super stores since they opened in 2013 and 2015 respectively – customers could buy PET bottles and stainless steel flagons to fill, or bring a vessel of their choice from home.
The FWDCo team was first introduced to the concept of Crowlers through Wellington brewery Fortune Favours, with whom they collaborated on a special beer last year, but they didn’t see the machines in action until Garage Project opened a tap room in Auckland in 2018. “We were really impressed,” says Davies. “We got a couple of Crowlers filled and left one for about five weeks. When we tried it, we were super impressed with the quality.”
Davies looked into getting Crowlers for Fine Wine Delivery Co, and discovered a new innovation: resealable lids. “Obviously the vessels are really cool, but not everyone wants to drink a litre in one go. That’s an issue we have with the glass flagons too – a lot of people have been asking for a 500ml bottle.”
So they bit the bullet and imported a Crowler machine with resealable lid capability from the US. To their knowledge, Fine Wine Delivery Co is the first retailer in New Zealand to offer Crowlers, and the first in Australasia to use the resealable lid technology.
The lids feature something called an oxygen scavenger, which prevents oxidisation. “When you pour, say, half and then screw it back up, it will actively start removing the oxygen from the air, which is pretty awesome,” says Davies. The resealable lid will keep the beer fresh for a good couple of days.
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Sustainability is another factor that drew Fine Wine Delivery Co to Crowlers, says Davies. Cans are a lot lighter than glass, so their carbon footprint is smaller, and they’re infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic. Customers are still welcome to fill any vessel at Fine Wine Delivery Co stores, but they will no longer sell plastic bottles, instead offering refillable glass or stainless steel growlers for those who don’t want to go for the Crowler option (which costs $2.99).
Crowlers are great news for craft beer fans who aren’t based in the main centres or don’t happen to have a brewery close by, as FWDCo can ship them nationwide. Now, anyone in New Zealand can order fresh tap beer online and have it delivered right to their door. It’s not just a boon for customers, either – brewers are particularly excited about the innovation too, says Davies, as it ensures their pride and joy is drunk in peak condition, tasting as good as it did fresh from the tank.
This content was created in paid partnership with Fine Wine Delivery Co. Learn more about our partnerships here.