Everything Now Sold Everywhere: Duane Reade’s New Growler-Filling Stations

As I left the bar last night I remembered that I had to pick up some razors and toilet paper, so I popped into the Duane Reade on 14th Street by Union Square, a new-ish shop occupying part of the space that was once a Virgin megastore. I’ve long known that the ubiquitous New York drugstore chain was adding all sorts of items, from fresh produce to ready-made sandwiches, in a bid to get people to shop there and nowhere else, but I wasn’t prepared for this: Duane Reade now has a well-stocked growler-filling station.

I’ve been a fan of growlers (refillable beer containers) for years, because everything about them is good: You get fresh draft beer–the best kind of beer–to enjoy at home, it costs way less than it would at a bar, and you’re saving the environment by using your own container and creating no waste. But something about growlers always seemed a bit too folksy for a chain like Duane Reade, where everything is shrink-wrapped and safety-sealed. Add three X’s on the side and your growler looks like something a barefoot hillbilly would drink moonshine out of.  But with "Brew York City," Duane Reade is going for it, and that’s good for beer enthusiasts such as myself, and bad for small specialty beer stores. 

I didn’t have a growler with me, plus I had three Guinness and a Jameson in my belly, so I didn’t partake, but I did take a good look at Duane Reade’s growler setup. It’s impressive. They’ve got a wall of growlers you can purchase if you don’t already own one–like the amazing ceramic growler Kaufmann Mercantile sells–for just $3.99. (At my local growlery they cost five bucks apiece.) And Duane Reade has no fewer than nine beers on tap, which is more than some bars have. The selection is impressive, if somewhat mainstream, with beers from such noted breweries as Bear Republic, Captain Lawrence, Founders, the Brooklyn Brewery, and Sixpoint. Best of all, they’ve got the cheapest growler prices I’ve ever seen, with all of them coming in at under ten bucks. 

Grok this: In New York these days, almost every decent beer costs at least $12 a six-pack, with some downtown bodegas charging up to $15. A growler holds 64 ounces of beer, which is just 10 ounces shy of a sixer, and the beer is better simply by virtue of coming from a keg. Assuming that Duane Reade has a rigorous policy of keeping their tap-lines clean, a $7.99 growler fill is an unbelievable bargain. I usually pay in a range of $12 to $16. So, awesome beer, cheap, and available right where you are. If you really love good beer, that’s hard to resist. 

So, the downside? Mom and pop beer shops are in trouble, because a Walmart equivalent has entered the market. They’ve got scale, pricing power, and ubiquitousness. No, they don’t have much soul, but for a five-dollar price difference for the same product, most people will deal with it. For the time being, little shops like The Ploughman will maintain a slight edge among purists by having edgier brews (Duane Reade sells Shock Top). For many people, though, Duane Reade will be their introduction to the growler world, and they’re going to like it.

Despite my own aversion to chain stores and love for small business, I will be bringing at least one of my two growlers to work with me on Friday, to fill up with fresh draft beer before heading to Brooklyn for the weekend. Price, convenience, quality. It matters to me, and Duane Reade is doing it well. It’s too good to ignore, or stand on some indie-beer principle. Sometimes I just want a cold one, and boy do they have it. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Hey Beer World: Stop Worrying and Embrace the Growler Already; Wine Kegs, Growlers, and Plorks: Let’s Hear It for the Evolution of Booze Containers; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter

Celebrating 15 Years of Founders Beer

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co. is celebrating its 15th anniversary by tapping into some of their new, and hard to come by beers this week in New York. On Thursday you can hit up the Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village or head to the Williasmsburg videogame joint Barcade to taste Founders’ commemorative brew, Bolt Cutter. The former also features 17 lines pouring Founders from 4pm until midnight, including Breakfast Stout, Red’s Rye IPA, and Dirty Bastard. 

If you miss that Founders extravaganza, or can’t get enough, on Friday they are hosting a party at Beer Authority in Midtown West from 7 to 10pm. Owner Mike Stevens will be there too, but before the festivities, I called him up to find out a little more about Founders, their unique craft beer, and 15 years of successful brewing. 

What did you do before you started Founders?
I was always the entrepreneurial type. I had, like four failed start-up business right out of college. I was home brewing, and at that point, and I started developing the plan for the brewery. It was my first successful job after college.

How did you get Founders going? 
Craft beer in the 1990s wasn’t a hot thing. Now it’s completely the reverse of that. But, when you are trying to carve a niche of your self in the mid 1990s, we had to be like everyone else, and at the time everyone was making a pale ale, an amber, and a wheat beer. Still, we plowed forward and eventually, we wanted to try and identify ourselves and find beers that were totally different than what the rest of the craft scene was doing. After a time, we faced bankruptcy so we figured if we were going to go bankrupt, we would do the bigger, bolder flavors that we did at home. We followed that thought and found a sub culture in the craft beer scene. We sold to a small market that was, and is, very passionate about what we are doing.

What beer started your success? 
Dirty Bastard, it’s the flagship, and it was the beer that saved the brewery. We are in conservative town and they said we couldn’t call it that, but to date, it’s our number two beer. Centennial IPA is the number one. 

Many of your beers have such a unique flavor profile, how do you come up with them? 
There are a handful of us that comprise a committee. We get together on a bi-weekly basis and discuses ideas for new beers. 

What are some of your more unique concoctions? 
Right now, Breakfast Stout is out as our seasonal, and I would say it’s one of those beers that put us on the creativity map. It’s double chocolate, coffee, and oatmeal stout that we have been brewing for 11 years. Devil Dancer is an obscenely hoppy, triple IPA that hits you up the head with a hop aroma. It’s about 13 percent so the malt character is extremely deep and full-flavored. Most of our beers tend to be heavy on the malt side, even if they are heavy on the hop. We tend to deliver more meatier, heavier, full-bodied beer. This one, Bolt Cutter, was a big one, and we brewed it to help us celebrate our 15th anniversary. 

Can you tell me more about it?
Bolt cutter is a limited, malty barley wine that was aged in maple bourbon barrels and runs 15 percent alcohol. Canadian Breakfast Stout uses these barrels too. These barrels came to be after a local maple syrup company contacted us and started putting the maple syrup into the bourbon barrels. When we got them back and put beer into it, the maple that had saturated the wood really came out in the flavor profile.

What about the All Day IPA? It’s such a brilliant concept.
Well, it’s only four percent and it was our most difficult beer to make. It took us about three years to perfect that recipe. The idea was, lets try and make a full-flavor, heavy on the aroma beer that was lighter on alcohol. We launched it last year, and already the sales indicate that it has the possibility to be the number one seller.

Do you have any favorite beers that aren’t your own?
I enjoy the whole, Belgian-style sours, and West Coast’s Green Flash. Swamp Head in Florida, they are doing some good stuff and in Colorado, the Dale’s Pale is exceptional ale.