Beaver State Becoming Growler State

Oregon gas station "fill stations" growing in popularity

BEND, Ore. -- In March, The Growler Guys opened a 12-tap growler-fill station within a small portion of the Stop &d Go Mini Mart in Bend, Ore., to test out the market. Four months and $65,000 later, The Growler Guys have a 30-tap "fill station," an assortment of different sizes and styles of bottles, growler accessories and merchandise, reported the Associated Press.

On average, The Growler Guys fill nearly 900 growlers per week, said the report. Add in those filled by the 15 breweries that provide the service in Central Oregon, and you get nearly 2,700 growlers filled each week.

From an increasing number of growler fills and businesses offering the to-go bottles, to an emerging retail sector for growler accessories, the growler craze is growing in Central Oregon.

To meet the demand, The Growler Guys owners, Kizer and Kent Couch, plan to branch out beyond the current Shell station/convenience store and open a second location on the north side of Bend by February.

The expansion won't stop there, they said.

Kizer Couch, Kent's son, said he hopes to have six, total, in Central Oregon and would like to see The Growler Guys also expand into other parts of the state and even into Boise, Idaho, through franchise and licensing agreements.

"There was a definite demand for fresh craft to-go," Kizer Couch told the news agency. "Craft beer is really growing in popularity. People are getting interested in different tastes and styles of beer."

About half the taps feature local breweries, such as Silver Moon Brewing, Boneyard Beer and GoodLife Brewing Co. Other beverages include hard cider, sangria from Volcano Vineyards, and six additional taps dedicated to kombucha tea.

Depending on the beverage, Kizer Couch said, filling a growler can range from about $7 to more than $20, but averages $9 at The Growler Guys.

"We are going through so much keg beer, we are able to rotate our styles and breweries all the time," he said. "Every time you come in here, you are going to see a new beer you didn't see the day or week before."

Opening a growler-fill station "takes a lot of space, a lot of energy and money to set up," Kizer Couch said, noting he had about $10,000 worth of growler bottles in the east-Bend store. And he said obtaining an additional liquor license from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for the growler-fill station was a challenge.

"The OLCC didn't know if they wanted to allow this," he said. "We kicked the doors open for other people."

Christie Scott, OLCC public affairs specialist, said The Growler Guys were the first to apply to the agency, and now three Bend businesses have licenses, and four more applications in Central Oregon are pending, Scott said.

It took the OLCC some time to determine licensing requirements for a growler-fill-statio, she said. "This is a different kind of business model than we're used to," she told AP.

For consumers to be in compliance with the law, growlers must be out of reach of the driver and passengers when being transported in a vehicle, Sergeant Don Manning of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office told the news agency.

Jay Cherry, distributor for Western Beverage, said the Growler Guys are at the forefront. "They have the biggest volume account for a convenience store in the area," he told AP.

Cherry said he thinks the region's growing number of craft breweries has fueled the growler popularity. The trend goes beyond Central Oregon, according to Paul Gatza, director for the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. "It feels like the tip of an iceberg to me," he told AP. "It is popping up, but will become a greater trend now that nonbrewery companies are setting up fill stations."

Sunoco, Parker's, Circle K, Walgreens, Caribou Coffee and other convenience or related-channel retailers have been testing and expanding growler programs (click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of the growler trend).

In Central Oregon, bars, restaurants and convenience stores have either started filling growlers or plan to in the near future. Last week, Empire Car Wash on Bend's north side opened a 29-tap growler fill station, co-owner Rick Lane told the news agency.