Growlers are growing up.
You know growlers: They’re the containers, typically half-gallon glass jugs, that you fill with draft beer to take home from your local brewery or bar.
They’ve been around for more than a century. Legend has it that 100 years ago they were galvanized steel pails, or buckets, often carried by kids, who were sent by their dads to fetch some beer from the local tavern. (The hissing sound from beer sloshing in the pails reportedly spawned the name ‘growler.’)
The boom in craft beer in the past few decades generated a boom in growlers, most often screw-top jugs used to buy draft beer at small breweries that have limited distribution. More recently, growler fills have become common at convenience stores and many other outlets.
Now, two Syracuse entrepreneurs want to take growlers to a new level: Steve Tarolli and Ron Englert founded Orange Vessel Co. which designs and markets stoneware growlers.
“It’s a high-end item,” Tarolli said of the jugs that sell for $55 a piece. “You’re not going to buy 20 of them. It’s not going to replace your glass growlers. These are a specialty item.”
Orange Vessel’s motto is “Craft Growlers for Craft Beer.” The idea is that people who enjoy beer as a premium product might want a premium jug to carry it in.
“If you’re going to a party and bringing some beer. this is great way to get it there,” Englert said. “It looks classy.”
Tarolli, whose full time job is in human resources, and Englert, who runs an industrial design company, first hatched the idea while playing cards (they’re regulars at the game of Pitch).
Englert used his skills to design a container that embraces the classic (like Greek wine jugs) and the functional. Englert is especially proud of the round handle that was intended to provide maximum comfort for carrying (you can fit two fingers through the handle).
Stoneware seemed the perfect medium, too.
“We knew we wanted to do ceramic,” Tarolli said. “It fits in with craft. We call it artfully scientific.”
After all, what could be more natural for beer than stoneware? That’s where the German beer “stein” got its name.
And the stoneware means absolutely no light gets into the jug — a concern because light can cause beer to break down, producing a “skunky flavor.”
“Even brown glass lets some light in,” Englert said.
The Orange Vessel growlers weigh about 4 pounds apice and also come with ceramic caps, held tightly in place with a metal clamp and fitted with a rubber gasket. (Some glass growlers also use these ceramic caps; these are often called “German” or “Grolsch” style growlers).
All Orange Vessel growlers now are 64 ounces (half gallon), but they may do a 32-ounce size in the future. For now, the Orange Vessel growlers come in orange, white, slate and black gloss. Orange Vessel is still working out the kinks of having custom labels on the jugs.
The jugs are made at the Ohio Stoneware Co. in Zanesville, Ohio.
You can order online, but Tarolli and Englert are also lining up local accounts, such as with distributors who supply breweries and bars. They’ve ordered 500 growlers from the Ohio plant, and hope to reach a point where they’re selling a couple of thousand a year, Tarolli said.
“It’s fun, you know,” Englert said. “Like beer, it’s fun.”