Beer enthusiasts agree that the freshest-tasting brew always comes straight from the tap. And while in the past imbibers have frequented bars and breweries to partake in draft pints, as the world of craft beer grows and awareness continues to spread, new, unlikely businesses are beginning to tap kegs. Imbibers can now grab glasses or refill growlers at unsung haunts like gas stations, car washes, and bike shops across the country.
Of course, any business selling beer requires a special license, and management must abide by strict health department codes. But operators say that procuring the necessary permits is worth the effort. By serving draft beer, employees connect more with customers which, in turn, boosts business.
"You can get anything on Amazon," says Watts Dixon, owner of Revolution Cycles, a full-service bike shop in Greensboro, North Carolina. "To counteract that, you have to go after experience-based retail." Which is why, two years ago, Dixon installed 10 beer taps, seven of which feature local or regional breweries.
It’s not unusual, he explains, for customers to come into the bike shop, have a beer and discuss different wheel options for their bike. "In almost all cases, it turns into some sort of purchase," Dixon states.
And while Revolution Cycles doesn't fill growlers, Lowes Foods, a locally-bent grocery store chain based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, does. The market started selling both pints and growlers in January 2014 within a section of the store dubbed the "Beer Den," where customers can sample beer and then buy a pint to drink while they shop. Slezak tells his staff it’s their job is to help customers drink better beer, so if an employee sees a shopper holding Coors Light or Yuengling, its the employee's responsibility to offer the shopper a taste of something local.
Initially, Lowes started off with nine taps at one shop in Clemmons, North Carolina, but now the chain operates 30 stores with six to nine rotating taps in each. Any beer served at Lowes must either be brewed in North Carolina or South Carolina, or have a BeerAdvocate rating of at least 88, explains Charles Slezak, Lowes' beer and wine category manager.
Serving draft beers has also improved sales for Whole Foods. "We have a pub in every store that state law allows us to serve on the premises," says Amy Gomez, Whole Foods' regional specialty coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region. Stores with draft beers see a higher percentage of sales, she reveals, adding that the first in-store pub opened in 2010 at Dallas, Texas' Park Lane location.
"There is a huge community who prefers draft beer over canned or bottled beer," confirms Gomez, adding that customers are more apt to buy a growler than commit to a full six-pack or 12-pack of beer. And, unlike online sales, in-store taps enable customers to taste different beers and provide opportunities for customers to meet the brewer.
Whole Foods has even partnered with local breweries to create beers that are sold exclusively in their stores. Recently, the Ashburn, Virginia, store partnered with local producer Old Ox Brewery to brew a saison-style beer made with raspberries and locally grown basil. Whole Foods team members even participated in the beer brewing process.
Picking up a growler at a grocery store might not seem too uncommon—after all, most grocery stores sell beer and wine. But, how about hitting a gas station or car wash for tap beer?
Quick 'N' Shine Carwash in Gilbert, Arizona doubles as a spot to clean one's car, refuel on gas, or restock on booze. Two years ago, owner Mukesh Sharme installed 15 beer taps, but because of demand, he increased that number to 39 taps a year later. In addition to serving pints of beer, customers can also refill growlers, and on a Friday it’s not unusual for Sharme to sell 100 to 150.
On the West Coast, The Growler Guys sell beer on draft at numerous locations, including three outposts in gas stations they also own—two in Bend, Oregon and one in Astoria, Oregon.
Per co-owner Kizer Couch, "It’s a challenge for convenience stores to stock enough craft beer because it takes up a lot of space and you need to have a wide selection." Couch was running out of cooler space at his gas stations when he saw a photo of a growler, which lead him to ask the state of Oregon in 2011 for a license to sell draft beer at his gas stations.
His first gas station location, on Bend's east side, opened in March 2012 with 12 taps devoted to local Oregon brews. It was an immediate hit and Couch soon realized that customers wanted to try new beers each time they visited. So, he replaced an onsite quick-service restaurant with a growler-filling station. Now, the Westside Bend location has 36 taps and the Eastside Bend location has 55 taps.
But, perhaps the most unlikely locale of them all is Stonington, Connecticut-based nanobrewery Beer’d Brewing Co. which, in 2012, opened in a defunct velvet mill, sharing space with a cluster of artist studios and a weekly farmers' market. So, shoppers can browse art, pick up veg, and score a pint of beer or refill a growler from one of Beer’d Brewing’s five taps.
"We are one of those locations where you can get the freshest beer," says Aaren Simoncini, co-owner and brewer. "The second the beer comes out of the tank and goes into a package, it starts to deteriorate," he explains, noting this is especially true of IPAs. "Growlers," he says, "are meant to be consumed fresh."