The red tape of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission can be peeled back but slowly, so when the agency’s soon-to-be-ex-executive director Sherry Cook lifted the ban on the retail sale of crowlers in March, makers and partakers of Texas craft beer rejoiced. Two months in, you can now secure an a la carte quart of ale just about anywhere fine craft beer is sold in DFW — and at Lakewood’s Craft Beer Cellar, crowler prowlers can snag those cans free of charge.
Invented by canned-microbrew innovator Oskar Blues Brewery in 2012, the crowler (a crafty portmanteau of “can” and “growler”) is a heavy-duty, 32-ounce aluminum container that lets you take your brew to go. Though they ultimately resemble a slightly bigger, infinitely better Steel Reserve 211 tallboy, crowlers are sold unsealed; after your friendly neighborhood beer-slinger fills it with the stout or sour of your choice, a tabletop contraption clamps lid to can, makes a few dozen high-velocity spins, and renders your beer airtight and ready to go.
“With a growler, it’s reusable, for one,” says Craft Beer Cellar general manager Stephanie Roethlisberger. “This [crowler] is recyclable but not reusable. This is a one-time-use container. With a growler, you can open and close and save your beer overnight and whatnot. But with this packaging, you allow yourself to take [it] to places where glass isn’t allowed.
“So if you want to get a crowler, you can take it on the river, take it poolside," she says. "It’s really easy to take it to a party and not have to worry about leaving your growler there.“
The crowler’s price point offers another advantage over growlers.
“A lot of times, people will come in and see we have something on draft they really want,” Roethlisberger says, “but they’re like ‘Ugh, but I have 27 growlers at home! I don’t want another one!’ So it’s like, ‘We have this option for a dollar.’”
For a time, crowlers were doing brisk business in North Texas. Lone Star Taps & Caps was the first retail establishment in Texas (and, in fact, all of North America) to acquire a crowler machine, with both beer producers (like Fort Worth’s Collective Brewing and its members-only Crowler Club) and fellow retail spaces following suit.
According to Roethlisberger, Craft Beer Cellar was one of the many retail beer outposts forced to stop capping crowlers in July 2015. That’s when the TABC restricted the practice to businesses that had a brewery or brewpub license, following the pretzel logic that putting a crowler through the cerveza centrifuge fell under the same regulations as an industrial-level canning line. Two months later, the TABC seized both the cans and crowler machine at Austin’s Cuvee Coffee, which led Cuvee owner Mike McKim to sue and ultimately triumph over the agency.
Crowlers have now become ubiquitous in the North Texas brewscape, available from On Tap in Arlington to On Rotation in East Dallas and all points in between. And while they’re $1 most places, Craft Beer Cellar has made them free on Fridays. Granted, a George Washington doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, but that’s still one more dollar that goes toward the fill. A crowler of beer has a shelf life of a month or more, Roethlisberger says; she recommends drinking beers with time-sensitive ingredients (like IPAs) much sooner.
And what if you want to do something more constructive with your can after the beer is all gone?
“It is up to you. If you want to saw the top off and plant a nice succulent in there,” she says, ”by all means.”