The recipe for Craft and Growler's existence was simple. Husband and wife owners Kevin Afghani and Catherine Kinslow fell in love with the recently exploding local craft beer movement in Dallas — so much so that they personally invested in the Deep Ellum Brewing Co. as it got off the ground in the winter of 2011. And they were simultaneously growing restless in their careers in patent law. The money was fine at Afghani's private practice, but the countless, isolating hours spent writing in an office at a computer were pretty dull — especially when compared with drinking beer.
Investing in a brewery and getting involved in the local beer scene helped cure the boredom a little, and it also illuminated an opportunity. The new breweries that were rising up like bubbles in a crisp lager had so much demand from bars that brewers had little incentive to invest in expensive bottling equipment or services. At the time, if you wanted to enjoy a hyper-hoppy Deep Ellum IPA, you had to either order a pint at a bar or pick up a growler filled with the suds at the Lakewood or Highland Park Whole Foods. These large, refillable jars let customers drink their favorite local beers at home on the couch, but Whole Foods only had a few varieties on tap. The bottles were kind of a pain in the ass to clean, too.
Afghani and Kinslow dreamed up Dallas' first beer filling station and set up shop in Fair Park, right across the street from the DART station. They filled one wall of the space with growlers capable of transporting a pint of beer for a couple of days, and larger, more intricate containers with pressurization systems that allowed eight liters of beer to be stored at home in the fridge for weeks. They stocked a mild sanitizer so customers could clean their growlers without affecting the flavor of their new favorite beer, and faucet adapters, which made rinsing the bottles simple and easy. At the back of Craft and Growler they designed and installed a custom beer dispensing system that's capable of filling anything that will hold liquid with 30 different types of glorious, delicious and mostly locally brewed beer.
Resting in a trough of sanitizing liquid, 30 Blichmann beer guns stand in a row, waiting to dispense your chosen brew. The dual trigger system, designed by a boutique-engineering firm that typically caters to homebrewers, was initially intended as a convenient way to bottle small batches of beer. One trigger dispenses carbon dioxide into the bottle, displacing air and helping the beer stay fresh and well-carbonated. The second trigger (the fun one) dispenses beer directly into the bottom of the vessel, reducing agitation to help keep the beer settled, while preventing any contact with air. With an airtight seal, the beer will keep in your refrigerator at home for up to two weeks (and sometimes longer) depending on the type of beer. After you break the seal, however, you'll need to consume the entire quantity of beer that evening. Poor you.
Not sure which to take home? You can get a flight of four beers at the bar for $10 and taste your way toward your perfect match. In fact, many customers who come in to fill their containers linger over a pint or two. The generous bar along the back wall is lined with beer kegs turned bar stools, and massive communal tables make Craft and Growler as much of a bar as it is a beer filling station. That's why Afghani is so happy with his new business. Unlike his legal career, his new job is incredibly social, requiring interaction with the brewers he buys from and with his own customers. He's created a malt- and hops-laced coffee shop of sorts: a gathering place for beer nerds.
There on a random Tuesday afternoon was Drew Huerter, who just left his position as head brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Co. and is looking for a new job, but not until he does some fishing. He sat at the bar with a glass of Real Heavy from Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco, Texas. "It's a malt bomb but it's delicious," he said of the beer, as a delivery truck from Lakewood Brewing Co. pulled up.
A delivery guy with a massive beard dropped off three kegs and two cases of bottled beer from Dallas' newest brewery. One of the kegs is filled with Till and Toil, a seasonal farmhouse saison loaded with natural yeast. The kegs were agitated and needed time to settle, but that didn't stop the barroom from filling with glass after glass with the cloudy, yellow liquid. That first keg would sell out within two days. Other kegs have disappeared in less than an hour.
The fast turnover is part of Craft and Growler's universal appeal. The brewers love it because the business takes on deliveries that are much larger than most bars, while customers get access to incredibly fresh beer.
It's adding up to impressive sales. Afghani claims he's already operating in the black, though he's reinvesting most of the profit right back into the business. Afghani says he's also ahead in terms of job satisfaction, and hopes he never has to return to the practice he's currently dismantling. But old habits are tough to break and three years of law school and 10 years of grueling practice will do strange things to a human. The 30-tap dispensing system with supplemental carbon dioxide and a sanitization sink has never been implemented in tandem to facilitate retail beer sales. Afghani and his wife are in the works to patent it.