Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GrowlerWerks, A new type of growler

Shawn Huff met Chris Maier in 2006, while in their masters programs at the University of Washington, working on a fuel cell project together for a business plan competition which they eventually won.   After graduation, they remained in touch and in August 2013 Shawn called up Chris to have a beer at Burnside Brewing.  Shawn offered to buy Chris a growler and he declined, explaining that it would go bad after he had the first beer at home.  Shawn replied “That’s the point. Let’s build a better growler,” and GrowlerWerks was born. With the addition of two previous co-workers from ClearEdge Power, Brian Sonnichsen and Evan Rege, the GrowlerWerks team was complete. The four do most of their work out of Brian's house in his basement bar, affectionately known as the "GrowlerWerks Design Center for Excellence."

     I met Shawn at BeerMonger where he brought and put the prototype for the uKeg64 on the table.  Almost immediately, a group of people saw it and came over to investigate.  This was no surprise, as I knew what it looked like and even I was impressed at this eye catching piece of hardware in person.

    When the GrowlerWerks team decided what was important in the uKeg system, there were 3 points that it needed to have.  It had to be vacuum insulated, so that it could be taken out of the fridge and warm beer wouldn’t have to be a concern.  It had to "pass the wife test", ensuring that it was cosmetically appealing and looks like it belongs in the refrigerator. Finally, it just had to work.  Other CO2 charged growler systems, while they have made steps in the right direction, have never really quite hit the sweet spot on functionality.  No other growler on the market had solved all three of these problems before.

 The uKeg has a continuously variable pressure regulator built into the cap.  This is unique because it does not cycle on and off, maintaining a constant pressure in the growler. This reduces foaming and maintains a high quality pour.  CO cartridges are standard food grade cartridges and will be around $.30 and last for one growler fill.  This equates roughly to $.05 per beer, and can be purchased through GrowlerWerks or Amazon.
     The uKeg has an extremely innovative design and is currently waiting on four patent applications; on the overall delivery, the regulator cap, the manufacturing process, and the design.
     This iteration of the uKeg was actually the second design.  Originally, the concept was to put a custom cap on a standard glass growler. However, after doing some destructive failure analysis with a bike pump, it was decided that glass was too dangerous to pressurize.  The manufacturing process has too much variability in the glass to assure that the growler does not explode if over-pressurized.
    Throughout our conversation, Shawn kept referring to the uKeg as a "fresh beer system," which is what they is trying to create.  GrowlerWerks isn't reinventing the growler, they're trying to create a new fresh beer system, unlike any growler before.

     The Kickstarter launches tommorrow, Wed Oct
15th at 7:00 AM PST, and will run for 60 days concluding on Dec 15th.  GrowlerWerks needs the Kickstarter money to cover tooling and manufacturing costs.  There are a variety of reward levels that can be chosen from.  The first 250 backers will get the uKeg for $79, and after that it will cost $99, a $20 discount from the retail price.  For any business that would like to carry the uKeg before it's available for retail, a 12-unit re-seller pack can be purchased for $900 (40% off future retail). This price will be an additional 10% off Oct 15th-17th. Several other levels can be purchased as well and these can be found in the infographic at the right (subject to change).  There will also be two stretch goals, the first being the uKeg 128, a one gallon version of the standard uKeg and the second will be custom laser engraving.
     GrowlerWerks is working with a manufacturer in China to keep the costs low. With quality control being paramount, they chose a manufacturer that has previous experience with this type of manufacturing.  The plan for distribution after the Kickstarter campaign is to initially sell online and then branch out into growleries, breweries and grocery stores; basically anywhere growlers are filled.
     All Kickstarter backers will receive limited edition, backer only tap handles.  There is a small set screw that allows the handle to be changed to different custom handles if so desired. Most kickstarter rewards will ship before Christmas, with only the uKeg itself shipping in May 2015.

     GrowlerWerks will be hosting their launch party tomorrow, October 15th at 5:30, at Hopworks Urban Brewery, RSVP on the Facebook Page.  You will have an opportunity to look at the prototype and see it in action.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter Campaign has began and the infographic has been updated.


  1. What does this mean for homebrewers? Would it be possible to rack from a secondary into this growler similar to a keg? Maybe as a way to sample beer before bottle conditioning?

    1. The uKeg will probably not be able to carbonate beer since it only has the small CO2 cartridges. However, where it will benefit homebrewers, is that they will be able to pull off their corny keg and take the beer to somewhere else instead of having to split a batch between bottles and kegging, or messing with a counterflow filler.

  2. What about the other growler preservation devices that are already on the market and are less expensive? The Growler Saver, GrowlTap, and Drink Tanks.

    1. The Growler Saver is just a CO2 purge system that you have to re-purge every time you open the growler. Also you can't regulate the pressure accurately so your Carbonation will be off.

      The GrowlTap is an addition to a standard growler it also does not have any pressure regulating method

      Also the GrowlTap and GrowlerSaver are on a standard glass growler. I'm not super excited about pressurizing due to explosion or breaking of the glass. Also they are not vacuum insulated. While they are cheaper they are definitely not a better solution to keeping your beer fresh for longer.

      Drink tank is $69 for the Growler and $45 for the CO2 Cap bringing it to $114 making it $14 more expensive for the kickstarter version and only $5 for the retail version. Also they do not work very well they have issues with maintaining correct pressure and foam over.

      All of these have been good incremental steps and are better than nothing but I honestly think the uKeg is a huge jump for fresh beer preservation.

  3. So a couple years later now and Growlerwerks still hasn't delivered their uKegs to thousands and thousands of their backers. Like the crooks they are, they have started reselling those pre-purchased uKegs online and in retail stores for even more money. I hope you'll post a retraction. These guys should be charged as criminals and not cheered as representing Portland's brew-scene.

    1. I agree that the GrowlerWerks team has not held up to their end of the bargain and its frustrating. However, when you sign up on a Kickstarter it is a forgone conclusion that it will not go as planned. These are not companies that are prepared for huge manufacturing run. They also did not know that they would be pulled into frivolous litigation designed to put them out of business.