Archive for October 2013

OCB Conference: Part 2

October 29, 2013

I’m  falling behind again. Who knew working around beer would take up so much of my time?

Alrighty, fuelled by another coffee, I was ready for the rest of the OCB sessions:

3. Advances in Brewhouse Design (Stephen O’Sullivan, Steinecker/Krones)

This was the part of the program where brewmasters salivate and brewery owners finger their empty wallets. Stephen O’Sullivan first showed off the new lauter tun they just installed at the Guinness brewery in Dublin: 1,000 hL capacity, 16 metres (55 ft) in diameter. Amazing.

However, that wasn’t what he was trying to sell us. He was there to talk about a shiny new line of brewhouse systems, ranging in capacity from 50-100 hL, that use a frame-mounted modular “snap together” approach. The modules are pre-frabicated in Germany, shipped to the brewery and just join together like a Lego set. Snap your system together, hook up the steam, electrical and water lines and you are ready to rumble. They come in various configurations from 3- to 5-vessel.

I was interested to see that the 3-vessel system was a mash tun/kettle + lauter tun + whirlpool, which is a bit different than what I have seen elsewhere which is mash/lauter tun + kettle + whirlpool. The difference is that in the “traditional” systems, the mash stays in the mash/lauter tun, the wort is extracted and moves on to the kettle. In this new system, the wet mash in the lauter tun/kettle is moved to the lauter tun, where the wort is extracted and sent back to the lauter tun/kettle to be boiled before it moves on to the whirlpool. This means instead of being able to start a new batch while the kettle is boiling, you have to wait until the boiled wort is removed from the kettle before you can mash in a new batch.

I’m sure a dedicated lauter tun is way more efficient at wort extraction than a mash/lauter tun, due to design compromises, but having to wait for the boil to be finished before commencing a new batch has to really cut back on the number of brews you can do per day. Sure enough, Stephen told us that the system will do 5 brews per day. Does a few more percentage points of extract make up for such a low number? I’m pretty sure if I was the brewery owner looking at these systems, I’d scratch around for the extra cash to upgrade to the 4-vessel system (mash tun + lauter tun + kettle + whirlpool), which can do 10 brews a day (because you can mash in a new batch as soon as you’ve moved the previous batch to the lauter tun.)

The other thing about this system is that it is designed to be used with wet milling. Traditionally, dry barley is fed between two rollers, which is supposed to crack the husk and expose the starchy innards inside the barley kernel. The problem is that due to the dryness and fragility of the barley malt, often a lot of the barley husks are completely crushed into powder. On the plus side, this means all of the crushed starch is more apt to be completely converted to sugar and dissolve very easily in hot water, increasing your extraction efficiency. However, on the minus side, you have fewer intact barley husks to form an efficient filter bed for lautering, the flour formed from the powdered husks is more likely to gum up your lautering, and polyphenols from the barley husks will be released into the wort, which can give a harsh astringency to your beer.

In a wet milling system, the dry barley is steeped in warm water for about five minutes, softening the husks. The barley is then fed through rollers, where the softened husks merely peel back from the starchy innards, leaving them intact while the starch is completely crushed. The wet-milled grain then falls directly into the mash tun. Because the starch is crushed into powder, your extraction percentage will be high. Because the husks are intact and there is little or no flour from crushed husks, your filter bed will be highly efficient. And polyphenols will remain in the husks where they belong. It seems to be a win-win-win scenario.

Of course the system is highly automated, with fancy touch screens. Stephen didn’t talk about prices, but I can’t imagine a system pre-built in Germany is going to be very cheap.

———

Next:  The break-out sessions

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Ontario Craft Brewers Conference

October 22, 2013

Whew! It was a busy busy week made even busier because Monday was Thanksgiving in Canada. I love long weekends — who doesn’t? — but it sure means the rest of the week feels crammed together, especially when you’ve got a couple of big events scheduled.

First up was the second annual Ontario Craft Brewers’ (OCB) Conference in Toronto, and this year everyone in the Brewmaster program was going — all 47 students from both years as well as the staff. Alas for the students, the first session started at 8 a.m., so they had to climb onto the bus at the early hour of 6:15 a.m. Since I live halfway to Toronto, I took a commuter train instead. (If you’re thinking that I got to sleep in, the train-schedule gnomes dictated that the only train going to where I needed to get to also departed at — yes, you guessed it — exactly 6:15 a.m.)

1. Welcome and Introductions (John Hay, OCB President)

The first speaker of the day was John Hay. Given all the new breweries opening in Ontario, and increases in both sales and volume of Ontario craft beer, John was understandably very pleased with the past year, and told us so.

2. State of the Industry Report for Ontario (Bob Rubenstein, Target Market Research)

Bob Rubenstein illustrated with numbers and graphs exactly what John Hay had just finished telling us. Lots of numbers and graphs. Soooo many numbers and graphs. Just a small sample of the numbers:

In the US, craft beer now owns a 6.6% of the market, an increase of about 1% per year since 2007. (Bob told us we could use that as a useful benchmark when we compared numbers in Canada.)

Even more telling was a look at the downfall of some major brands over the past three years:

  • Bud Light fell from 22% to 19% market share
  • Budweiser, once THE major player, was down to only 8% market share
  • Miller Lite, a huge brand back in the day, was down to only 7% market share

On the opposite side of the coin, some craft breweries showed astounding growth in annual sales over the same three-year period:

  • Sierra Nevada sales were up 29%
  • Boston Beer Co. sales were up 34%
  • New Belgium increased sales by 40%
  • Yeungling sales increased 49%
  • Dogfish Head sales were up 124%! (Wow!)

OK, what about Canada? Just looking at Ontario, the big breweries sold about the same amount of discount beer in 2012 compared to three years earlier, and actually sold slightly less mainstream beer. In contrast, imported beer sales were up 4%, premium beer sales were up 6%, and in 2012, craft brewers sold 19% more than they had in 2009. This represents a 3.2% share of the Ontario market.

Looking ahead two years to 2015, Bob predicted that craft beer’s share of the Ontario market will increase to 4.4%. In comparison, he foresaw mainstream beers losing almost 4% market share to drop to less than 44% market share in 2015.

(That’s all the numbers I’m going to share, but believe me when I tell you that there were lots more numbers. And graphs — lots and lots of graphs.)

With the expected increase in craft beer production in Ontario, this will mean more brewery jobs! Yay! (Great news for the current crop of Brewmaster students!)

But before you say, “Yay!” too loudly, Bob reminded us that although craft beer ales were up, overall sales of beer in North America were declining, in part because of the aging population, in addition to a general switch to wine, cider and spirits. Can craft beer continue to grow when the overall market is falling? Hmmm…

3. Avoiding the Pothole: Lessons from the Collapse of Craft Beer Growth in the late 1990s (Ray Daniels, Cicerone program)

Hey, it was my old buddy Ray Daniels, founder of the Certified Ciccerone program! Surely he would remember me from the Boston Beer Bloggers Conference only three months ago. Although we hadn’t actually spoken face-to-face in Boston, I was fairly certain he would recall me, since I was sitting in exactly the same place — directly in front of him, right at the back of the room. Alas, he didn’t wave.

Ray was here to remind us of the hard times that befell the craft beer industry in the late 1990s, and analyze why that had occurred so that we could avoid making the same mistakes.

Acknowledging Bob Rubenstein’s numbers and graphs, Ray agreed that growth is always great, and leads to more volume and more variety. But generally, the world is hard for new businesses. In the American restaurant business, 28% of new places close in their first year of operation, and 60% close in within three years. Thankfully, the brewing industry does not reflect that trend. In fact, in the U.S. brewing industry, less than 5% of new breweries close. It’s like we are exceptional.

Why the difference between a brewery and say, a restaurant? Well, in order to open a restaurant, you really only need a building, some kitchen equipment, some tables and chairs and someone who thinks they know how to cook. But in order to opena brewery, you need to buys eom fairly expensive equipment, do some fairly expensie renovations on the building, and find someone who knows how to make beer — a fairly rare talent. Just to open the doors, you need to know what you’re doing, which gives you an important advantage over a lot of other types of businesses.

Beer also has an additional advantage: you don’t have to teach people about your product — generally if you say, “I make beer”, most people know what you’re selling. And, there’s also a certain lack of competition amongst craft brewers — we’re still in the friendly, collegial stage. Finally, the increasing market share in the U.S. — a steady 10% growth over the past decade — helps the entire craft brewing community. As Ray said, “A rising tide raises all boats.”

The result is that we have seen an unprecedented number of new breweries open in the past five years. But Ray reminded us that there was a similar situation two decades ago — a sharp rise in the number of craft breweries, and everything seemed rosy. Then the tsunami hit — the craft beer industry suffered a sharp crash, a disaster that somehow did not affect mainstream and import brands.

So what caused the crash, and why only craft beer? Ray put it down to a number of factors:

  • The boom had started because consumers were excited by flavourful beer. In response to this, retailers were “churning” their product — never sticking with any one brand long enough for it to build a following, but restocking their shelves with a never-ending stream of new beers.
  • Brewers, cocky with their newfound powers, were shipping to distant markets all over the country with no knowledge of the new markets, no promotion of their beer and no direct customer interaction. The brewers believed that the beer distributors would take care of that stuff. (They didn’t.)
  • And unfortunately, some craft beers were bad — a lack of quality control, exacerbated by over-production, meant a lot of craft beer had a very short shelf life, emerging from the bottle oxidized, cloudy, sour, gushing — or a combination of all of these.

The result was that if you found a beer you liked, you probably couldn’t find it again; and even if you did find it, chances were that it tasted a little — or a lot — different the second time.

But once consumers had tasted good beer, they were hooked — they wanted to drink flavourful beer all the time. So they started looking around for brands that were consistently good and that they could find anytime. Enter the European imports: Guinness, Bass, Beck, etc. Many people who had started drinking craft beer switched to imports. The result for the craft beer industry was a rapid retrenchment: dozens and dozens of breweries closed across the country, or were forced to amalgamate. Entire lines of brands were rationalized out of existance.

In Chicago alone, six breweries closed, and Ray gave us a closer look into the causes of some of the closures.

The first was a brewpub, the Golden <something or other> — sorry, didn’t catch the complete name. The problem with brewpubs is that devoting a lot of space to the brewing equipment means that you only use that space two or three times a week; the rest of the time, the brewing equipment takes up valuable space that could be used to seat more diners (and drinkers.) Expansion is an option, but generally those went badly in the 1990s, since the building was rarely designed to hold a brewery; most expansion plans were poorly conceived by non-engineers; and often the infrastructure (steam, water, glycol and electricity) was not upgraded to match the new equipment. (In the case of this brewpub, the equipment took up too much space. After the place was redesigned, they discovered that there was no longer enough steam to bring the wort to a boil. They were pooched.)

Ray also reminded us of Baderbrau — a brewery with a good German name that unfortunately sounded like “Badder” to the citizens of Chicago. And Baderbrau only made one type of beer, so there was never anything new to celebrate. (Yes, Steam Whistle has made the “one beer” concept work, but generally, it’s a challenge.)

Then there was the Chicago Brewing Co., winner of a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). However, this brewery never managed to produce good-quality beer back in Chicago. That stemmed in part from a poor operational layout — due to placing the grain mill right beside the brewhouse, everything in the brewery was perpetually covered with grain dust. In addition, the brewhouse featured old European equipment — not only was it quirky to operate, but replacement parts could not be found. The number of people on staff, and therefore the payroll, was relatively high, meaning that there was no spare money for a proper upgrade and expansion. Despite good recipes, the result was low quality beer.

So how did the U.S. craft beer industry turn it around? (And by extension, how do we prevent a similar crash in our near future?) Ray believes that the craft breweries that survived did so by focussing on the details: they had a solid business plan based on conservative expectations for reasonable growth; and planned expansions and growth carefully. Craft breweries also learned to build solid business relationships with consumers in both their home markets,and in new markets. Andf they started taking consistency and shelf life seriously.

Ray did admit there is talk of a new bubble in the craft beer industry, but unlike 1994, he says we are better prepared this time around: we make better quality beer; real growth in the industry is coming from established brewers, not just the creation and output of new breweries; distributors and retail outlets in the U.S. have embraced craft beer; and perhaps most telling, big brewers now produce “crafty” brands in order to compete in the flavourful beer niche.

Wow, that was a lot of information, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. I needed another coffee if I was going to keep up…

Beer geek country drive

October 13, 2013

It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and the weather was beautiful, so Elaine and I decided to head out on a country drive into Norfolk County, a rural area that lies south of Hamilton and north of Lake Erie. Our ultimate goal was the Norfolk County Fair, an “old-timey” county fair complete with midway rides, games of chance, cotton candy, unhealthy deep fried you-name-it, and competitions for everything agricultural and rural — horse & carriage teams, flower arranging, potatoes, chickens, rabbits, pumpkins, chocolate cakes, butter tarts, quilts… If it’s made or produced locally, there’s a category for it.

Blue Elephant Brewpub, Simcoe, Ontario

Blue Elephant Brewpub, Simcoe, Ontario

The fair happens in the small town of Simcoe, and before we entered the fair grounds, we decided to stop for lunch at the Blue Elephant Brewpub, housed in a Victorian house on the town’s main street.

Unfortunately there was nobody there to talk to me about the brewery operation — apparently all the brewers were at the fair — and our server had no idea of the size of the brewhouse or operation. However, it can’t be all that large. Although half a dozen beers were listed on the menu, only two were on tap — apparently all the rest of the beer had been taken to the fair!

My choices were the “Fair Lager”, apparently made especially for the week of the county fair, and “Not Too Shabby” Jalapeño Lager. Was there really any choice? I ordered the Jalapeño Lager, which, according to a white board by the front door, was made with local grown and roasted chipotles.

“Locally grown” was a hallmark of several dishes on the menu — Elaine’s grilled cheese and apple sandwich featured both local apples and Jensen Cheese, produced right there in Simcoe. (I, of course, was the eco-boor, ordering the daily special, mussels from PEI. Perhaps the tomatoes and onions in the marinara sauce were locally grown).

Eco-unfriendly PEI mussels and jalapeno lager. Note the absence of any head.

Eco-unfriendly PEI mussels and jalapeno lager. Note the absence of any head on the beer.

My beer had a complete lack of foam, probably due to the oils from the jalapeños. The nose was smoky, and the taste was indeed of smoky chipotle. Interestingly, there was a noticeable absence of heat — I suspect the seeds, which are tiny reservoirs of capsaicin (the hot stuff), were scraped from the peppers and discarded. All in all, a good pint that went well with the robust marinara sauce of the mussels.

While we were munching, we glanced through a brochure about the area, and discovered that  the new Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm  was only 20 minutes from the brewpub. We arbitrarily decided to head to the brewery first, before returning to town for the county fair.

Ramblin’ Road is located just to the north of Delhi, another small village in Norfolk County. The countryside around here is flat and fertile, its rich layer of topsoil kindly left here by glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. For years tobacco was king from here across the north shore of Lake Erie to Sarnia. However, as the number of smokers started to decline in the past 30 years, many farmers turned to other crops. Local farmer Robert Picard grows peanuts and potatoes, which he turns into snack foods via his company, Picard Nuts. He also recently decided to start up a brewery on his property, hence Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm, which claims to be the first and only brewery farm in Ontario. (It is not — Charles McLean’s tiny Battleaxe Brewery in Grey County, operated on his farm and using local ingredients, many from his own crops, has been in operation for several years.)

Ramblin' Road Brewery, part of the Picard farm operation.

Ramblin’ Road Brewery, part of the Picard farm operation that includes snack food made from peanuts and potatoes.

The immediate thing that struck me as we arrived was the size of the building. Here we were, out in the middle of nowhere, and there was this industrial-sized warehouse in the middle of a field. Amazing.

Although the clerk in the retail store was not a brewer, she took us on a tour of the facilities. Wow, check out the size of the rooms! Although our tour guide had no idea of the technical specifications of the brewhouse, the label on the kettle indicated it had been manufactured by Criveller in 1995 and was a fairly impressive 28 hL. The equipment, undoubtedly from some defunct brewery in Ontario or New York, was like new, extremely clean and unmarred by the usual collection of dents and scratches one would expect to see from almost 20 years of use.

Brewhouse, fermenters and bottling line. Note the complete lack of clutter. Yes, beer is brewed here.

Brewhouse, fermenters and Meheen bottler. Despite the complete absence of clutter, we were assured that beer is actually brewed here.

Something else notable was the complete lack of clutter. Nothing lying around. No hoses, bottles of sanitizer, tools, gloves, safety goggles, empty glasses, bottles, kegs. Nothing. It was almost surreal.

There were six 58-hL fermenters, each capable of holding a double batch. I didn’t check all of them, but at least the two on the end held fermenting beer.

We asked our guide how many people worked in the brewery, and were startled by the answer: one. Apparently, like James Walton, owner/operator/brewmaster of Vancouver’s 25-hL Storm Brewery, the Ramblin’ Road brewmaster handled the 28-hL operation all by himself. (Except on bottling days — apparently two or three people from other parts of the farm operation helped on the six-head Meheen on packaging days.)

The story we got was that the brewmaster had no formal or previous experience in brewing — a brewer from Montreal had been brought in to teach him how to brew, and still occasionally dropped in if a problem cropped up.

At the moment, Ramblin’ Road cleaves to the middle of the road, producing mainstream lager, pilsner, ale, and a Dakota Perle “potato ale”.

The potato ale apparently happens this way: the company wants to make a beer-washed potato chip, so they use some of their beer to wash Dakota Perle potatoes. The potatoes move on to become potato chips; the beer, now filled with starch from the potatoes, is refermented, the starch presumably converted to sugar by some means. Again, lack of a technical person prevented a more complete understanding of this process.

(Edit: Jen Nadwodny, a fellow graduate of the Niagara College Brewmaster program, currently brewing at Brasseurs du Monde in Montreal, added a comment to this post that she talked to John Picard about the potato beer process: A simple, unhopped beer is used to wash the Dakota Perle potatoes. Enzymes are added to the beer to convert the potato starch to sugar, and the result is [boiled and hopped, I assume] then refermented and sold as potato beer. See Jen’s comment below.)

Also not clear is how much of the ingredients are actually grown on the farm. There is a large hop yard here, but no evidence of a malting operation that would turn the raw barley into malt. Perhaps it is shipped to a small maltster for processing — again, having someone with tecnical knowledge would have been great.

The beers produced are not complex or complicated, but Ramblin’ Road knows its rural audience — everyone here is pushing the “eat local” movement, since it is essential to the survival and growth of farms in this area that are competing with huge year-round commercial operations in the southern States. If someone can make a local beer that tastes roughly the same as mainstream Canadian lagers, local people are going to drink it with gusto. As we stood chatting with our guide, a stream of visitors quickly emptied out the beer fridge that we had watched being filled not 15 minutes before.

Tiny urban Bridge Brewing in North Vancouver, with its minuscule 4 hL brewhouse crammed into an industrial unit and its tasty northwest-style ales, does not seem to have much in common with large Ramblin’ Road and its mainstream lagers — but both breweries know their audience, brew for their audience, and have successfully connected on a deeper level with the locals.

Ramblin’ Road clearly has the means to produce a whack of beer. Whether they can connect with mainstream lager drinkers outside Norfolk County and environs or remain just a local brewery remains to be seen.

A craft beer event and a new growler

October 12, 2013

Something has suddenly started in the past couple of months. Perhaps I’ve reached the requisite number of readers or daily views, or I’m near the top of certain Google searches, or I’ve unknowingly tripped some other marketing trigger. Whatever it is, companies are starting to contact me about beer-related products and beer events. Would I be interested in trying out/wearing/watching/attending <insert name of product or event here>?

Why sure, I guess.

So I’ll mention one event and one item in this post.

1. Richmond Hill Craft Beer Festival, Thursday, October 17, 6:00 p.m. to midnight

First up is the Richmond Hill Craft Beer Festival happening the evening of Thursday, October 17. I was invited to attend this new event, but unfortunately I will be at an all-day conference in Toronto. (Yes, of course the conference is about beer. Duhhh!)

Nevertheless, I’m kind of fascinated by this particular beer festival. See, there are all kinds of beer festivals and events in Toronto pretty well all-year round. A hundred kilometres or more to the north, places like Barrie and Gravenhurst are starting to develop a roster of beer events. But for the territory in between Toronto and Barrie — towns like Richmond Hill, Aurora, Newmarket, and Uxbridge — the craft beer calendar is pretty barren.

So if you live in this under-served area, my advice would be to get out and support the Richmond Hill Craft Beer event —  one very successful event may very well engender others. Besides, as organizer Peter Szoke mentioned to me, the current political impasse in the United States may all come to a head on the same day as his festival — if the world’s financial markets plunge into the Abyss, you might as well drown your sorrows with good beer.

2. HydroFlask 1.89 L (64 oz) insulated growler.

HydroFlask handed these out at the Beer Bloggers’ Conference in Boston. We had our choice of a matte black finish or polished stainless steel, and Elaine and I both chose the matte black finish. I’ve actually regretted my choice a couple of times, not because I mind the matte black finish, but because I would have been interested to see if there’s any difference in performance between the black and the stainless.

HydroFlask is known for its lightweight double-walled vacuum-insulated 12-oz (355 mL) water flasks, designed to keep water cold. Their 64-oz (1.89 L) growler resembles its smaller cousins, albeit on steroids.

The growler costs about $50–$55, which is a fairly hefty investment. However HydroFlask offers a “5% Back” program: printed on the label of each flask is a unique ID number. Go to the 5% Back website, enter that code, choose a charity from a list of thirteen, and HydroFlask will donate 5% of the cost of your flask to that charity. In a very cool move, HydroFlask gave us the same opportunity even though our flasks had been gifts.

Hydroflask growler

HydroFlask growler and its glass cousin. One inch shorter, 30% lighter, still holds 1.9 L of yummy beer goodness.

In comparison to a traditional glass growler, there are significant differences in weight and size. First of all, despite its double walls and steel construction, the HydroFlask is 30% lighter than a glass growler — 765 g (26 oz) compared to 1105 g (39 oz). It’s also 2 cm (1 in) shorter and slightly narrower. Despite its smaller dimensions, it holds as much as a glass growler because it has a square, not a tapered profile.

In terms of durability, although I haven’t put either glass or steel growler to a concrete floor drop test, common sense suggests the HydroFlask would more likely survive the encounter, albeit with some ugly dents or scars (which is why I didn’t do it.)

Another advantage of the HydroFlask is complete light protection. Beer — especially hoppy beer — is susceptible to skunkiness when exposed to UV light, due to a reaction with alpha acids and sulphur compounds such as riboflavin. Brown glass helps to slow down this reaction, but does not prevent it completely. The HydroFlask, on the other hand, is completely light proof.

One thing I wonder about is the much larger mouth of the HydroFlask. More and more craft brewers have dedicated growler filler stations that flush the air out of the growler and replace it with CO2 before filling, limiting the beer’s exposure to beer-killing oxygen, and extending the life of the beer from one or two days to a couple of weeks. I don’t think that the HydroFlask can be filled at a growler filler because of its large mouth — someone tell me if I’m wrong about this — meaning that it has to be filled at the draught tap. This has to result in more oxidation of the beer simply because of the much larger opening. This means you HAVE to drink the beer within a couple of days, before the oxidation levels rise above detection thresholds.

Okay, so supposing you do drink the beer while it is still fresh and young? Does the steel interior add a metallic note? And does the vacuum insulation really make much difference to the temperature of the beer? Here’s what I did to find out: I went to the college and had a traditional glass growler and  the HydroFlask filled with the same cold beer. I put both of them in my car trunk, and drove 135 km (85 mi) to a home in north Toronto to meet some friends. By the time I got to Toronto, it was rush hour, so total driving time was almost 3 hours. Although I was quite comfortable due to air conditioning, the car trunk got quite hot. As soon as I arrived, I poured samples of each beer for my friends to evaluate.

In terms of temperature, the beer from the glass growler was just on the edge of being warm. The beer in the HydroFlask was still very cold. Score one for the HydroFlask.

In terms of taste, did the steel interior of the HydroFlask have any effect on the flavour? I couldn’t detect any difference between the two growlers, but I devised a quick duo-trio test for my friends: I poured them a sample from each growler without identifying which growler each sample came from, then gave them a third sample and asked them whether the third sample matched Sample A or Sample B. None of them were able to correctly pair the two samples from the same growler.  My conclusion, albeit with an admittedly small sample, was that there was no difference in flavour between glass and steel.

pouring

The wide mouth and short shoulder definitely makes pouring with one hand difficult. Also note the lid getting in the way, but tucking the strap of the lid under your hand only makes the flask harder to grasp.

In terms of actual mechanics, the BPA-free plastic screw top lid, held to the flask by a plastic strap, was easy to open and close, and formed a secure leak-proof seal. However, the lid tended to flop in the way during pouring. Trying to keep the lid out of the way by putting the strap under my hand only exacerbated the next problem: there is no handle, and my medium-sized hand found the wide neck and short shoulder of the HydroFlask difficult to encircle. I definitely needed both hands to pour beer when the flask was full. Since this didn’t allow me to hold the glass at the proper angle to receive the beer, pouring beer became a two-person operation. (On the other hand, pouring beer from a full glass growler has always been a challenge too — it usually involves me tucking the growler under my arm.)

In terms of clean-up, a possible downside is that these are not dishwasher-safe. However, the steel interior was easy to rinse, as was the powder-coated matte exterior. When I got home, a quick wash in soapy water and a good rinse with cold water left it beer-ready.

Pros:

  • 30% lighter, an inch shorter and slightly narrower than standard glass growler.
  • Beer is totally protected from light
  • Steel flask is presumably more drop-proof
  • Kept beer much colder in hot conditions
  • Lid was easy to open and close, and sealed securely with no leakage.
  • Easy to clean
  • HydroFlask donates 5% of the cost of your flask (about $2.50) to charity

Cons:

  • No handle and wide neck/short shoulder make it difficult to pour with one hand, especially when growler is full.
  • Screwtop lid flops in the way during pouring.
  • Much wider mouth may lead to greater oxidation — as with any growler filled at the tap, I would suggest you drink your beer within a day or so.
  • Not dishwasher-safe
  • $50 — more expensive than glass

Conclusion:

I like the HydroFlask,– it has become my go-to growler for transporting draught beer. Sure, it’s not easy to pour, but the convenience, durability, cool looks and ability to keep the beer very cold more than balance the scales. If you live in a jurisdiction that allows growler refills, and you are in the habit of drinking beer within a day or so of buying it, then the HydroFlask is a good long-term investment.


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