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

Four Ways to Eat and Party Your Way Through Labor Day Weekend

Is it truly that time again? For you summer-loving folk out there yes, unfortunately Labor Day weekend is upon us and the end of the season is nigh. But, just because the good times must end, doesn’t mean you can’t go out with a bang, starting tomorrow at Pig Island, an all-out pork fest invading Governor’s Island. This epic event features 80 locally sourced hogs cooked up by 25 chefs including Pork Slope’s Dale Talde, King Phojanakong of Umi Nom and Kuma Inn, Sam Barbieri of Waterfront Ale House, and Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s NO. 43. Beer from Sixpoint Brewery will be flowing, as well as New York Wines. For $85 you get all this, plus live music and a trip on the ferry.

Saturday brings you Mr. Sunday Night, the outdoor dance party by Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin. There, you can stuff your face with tacos by Country Boys and down a ton of beer as you shake your booty from 3 to 9pm. On Monday, you can party down at two hip Brooklyn spots, starting at Roberta’s in Bushwick for their Labor Jams from 2pm to 6pm. DJ Mikhail Z and Joe Cristando will be spinning the beats as the staff whips up tacos and pours copious amounts of beer. Starting at 5pm, the boys of Do or Dine in Bed-Stuy host, Rub-A-Grub. Teaming up with Sound Liberation Front, they will not only feature an array of tasty appetizers and drinks, but music by Rich Medina and Queen Majesty. Let the, um, labor begin. 

Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery Does the Unthinkable, Puts Good Beer in Cans

Of all the mysteries in the world – Why have I never seen a baby pigeon? What really happened at the Dyatlov Pass in 1959? Would Fresh Direct exist if their trucks had to park legally? – I’m most vexed by the mystery of why really good beer can’t come in cans. Thank goodness, then, for Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery, which recently realized that there is no good reason at all that cans must be the exclusive province of mass-market lagers.

The Red Hook-based beer makers released four of their excellent brews – the Crisp, Sweet Action, Bengali Tiger, and Righteous Ale – in 16-ounce cans, which are now available in bodegas throughout New York for about $12 per four-pack, and dammit, they’re great. There’s probably some brainy science reason that beer necessarily tastes worse after being sealed in an aluminum cylinder (something to do with air), but Sixpoint went ahead and said “sod it, we’ll do it anyway,” assuming that the overall quality of their product is high enough to take a hit or two. They assumed right.

I’m all for bottles, but they’re heavy, hell on the environment, and can be used as weapons. Cans hardly weigh anything, they’re easy to stack in the fridge, they’re a breeze to recycle, and you can’t bludgeon someone to death with them when they’re empty. To my mind, that makes them better for most real-world drinking situations, and Sixpoint must agree, because they’re the first to break that weird, unspoken rule in the craft brewing world that bottles are the only way to go. (And those bottles, of course, can’t even have twist-off caps, because that would be too easy.) Expect a crush of craft brewers racing to join them on the shelves.

Of course, cans aren’t the only smart packaging options available to today’s booze makers. There are all sorts of new-fangled ways to preserve the product and minimize environmental impact. I admire winemakers like CalNaturale who are bold enough to put their cabernet sauvignon in one-liter Tetra Pak boxes. They might not look right sitting on a table at Per Se, but at least you’ll know your vino isn’t corked.

So, booze industry, let me save you some market research dollars by telling you right now that I don’t think putting your booze in cans, Tetra Paks, or even Capri Sun-style silver pouches cheapens your product at all. It makes you seem smart, and the knowledge that my Friday night throw-down isn’t quite as terrible for the environment as it could be will make the party that much better. You see what Sixpoint just did? Do that.