Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 14, 2013

Growlers fit the niche

Continental Liquors provides fresh on-tap beer

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — With tough competitors on either side of his shop, Jim Gibbs said he had to offer something different if he wanted to stand apart from the crowd.

“I needed a niche to build my business ... and I love beer,” Gibbs said, explaining the decision to install 10 taps attached to varying sizes of beer kegs and designed to dispense fresh product via “growler” bottles filled and sealed for home consumption.

“I think we might be onto something, we’re filling so many growlers.”

Gibbs, who owns Continental Liquors on 13th Street along with his wife, Shannon, said he got the idea for fresh on-tap beer after his friend, John Kaines, delivered growlers of beer from Three Floyds Brewery that he had filled in Elizabethtown. Knowing his shop caters to many local beer enthusiasts, Gibbs said it did not take long to recognize the potential for his own business. The refillable, recyclable growler bottles also fit well with the shop’s recycling philosophy, and seem ideal for the job.

“A growler holds 64 ounces, or four 16-ounce beers. It’s a perfect amount,” he said.

Gibbs and the Continental staff did not have to wait long to find out if the investment, including an elaborate system of taps and hoses with individualized pressure control for each keg, was a good one.

“A whole lot of it has been word of mouth. We haven’t advertised it. The first night we started selling growlers we had five customers take pictures and send out mass texts,” Gibbs said with a chuckle, nodding to the various tastes of beer afficionados who love to seek the ultimate flavors from combinations of malt, hops, yeast and water.

“It has become a big craze — homebrew and microbrew. There’s so many varieties of beer these days, it’s almost become like wine,” he said.

After only a few days with the taps flowing, customers have already convinced Gibbs to do more. “We’re adding five more taps,” he said, and he might even add two additional spouts for those who want to fill their jugs with red or white wine.

Freshness is a major selling point for the kegged beers, and Gibbs points out he can offer microbrewed beers from containers as small as one-sixth the volume of a full keg. The first 10 beers on tap were based on Gibbs’ personal tastes, as well as customer knowledge, he said, with a growing number of beer buyers suggesting what types and styles of beer he should dispense from the next set of taps.

“This was mostly personal selection and it had a little bit to do with what people wanted ... and price point,” he said, noting the bulk purchase option reflects a savings for his customers. “It works out cheaper on everything so far.”

A batch of empty glass growler bottles is kept near the kegs and maintained at 33 degrees to facilitate easier filling with less head and overflow. Customers are provided a list of care instructions for their growlers and encouraged to clean them properly before returning for refills. At the taps, customers have their choice of Hudepohl Amber, Founder’s Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA, Bell’s Winter White Ale, Schlafly Winter ESB Ale, Six Point Righteous Ale, Six Point Diesel Stout, Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, “and the house beer, Keystone Light,” Gibbs said. Individual information, including specific gravity and alcohol by volume is posted along with the price-per-growler of each brew. Early results show local beer lovers leaning toward the amber brew from Cincinnati, along with the scotch ale and the beer aged in bourbon barrels from Lexington as top sellers so far.

The refillable growler bottle is nothing new, although Gibbs said it is new to this market.

“One guy said, ‘What’s a growler? Is that the sound people make when you try to take their beer away?”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.