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

More Sandy Relief Benefits This Week, All With a Boozy Twist

It’s great that after a few weeks, two holidays, and another on the way, people are still recognizing the disaster that Hurricane Sandy caused in various parts of the city. In the next nine days there are four fun events aimed at raising money for victims, displaced families, and devastated businesses. Here are some ways you can give more to the relief efforts, and drink your face off at the same time.

Tonight, hit up the Bowery Hotel for the 1st Annual New York Bartenders Ball featuring live music by Chances With Wolves and cocktails made by drink mavericks from Death & Co, Employees Only, PDT, Ward III, Dutch Kills, Dram, The Whiskey Brooklyn, and Weather Up Tribeca. Starting at 7pm, $100 gets you in for a five-hour open bar with food, and every penny goes to Occupy Sandy NYC Relief and the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation

Also tonight, the $10 donation at the door of NYC Heart’s NYC event at The Tippler will be donated to victims of the hurricane. While you feel good about giving back, you can also feel good about shaking your tail to Diane Birch and Maverick & Ice, and then, participating in the live auction hosted by Brian McCarthy. The party runs from 6pm to 2am, and they will serve $10 cocktails and nibbles all night long. 

The Barman’s Fund is at it again, but this time they are inviting you to party down at Dutch Kills on Sunday, December 2 at 9pm until 2am. Join them for the 2nd Annual Barman’s Fund Holiday Shindig, where for $50 you can feast on food by #7 Sub and The Vanderbilt, sip cocktails made with Brooklyn Gin, Tito’s Vodka, Owney’s Rum, and others, all mad by barman Richard Boccato. All proceeds go to various NYC charities. 

Next Tuesday, December 4, The Brooklyn Brewery hosts a Hurricane Sandy relief fundraiser for Rockaway Surf Club, Red Hook Initiative, and Coney Recovers. Tickets run $40 and include a commemorative tasting glass, unlimited samples of beer from breweries including Blue Point, Kelso, Dogfish Head, Empire, Founders, and more. With all these incentives, giving has never felt so good.


Photo by Caspar Newbolt