How This Beer Growler Went From Concept to Market
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Entrepreneurs: GrowlerWerks founders Shawn Huff, Brian Sonnichsen, Evan Rege and Chris Maier created uKeg, a portable, pressurized growler (a container for transporting craft beer and other beverages).
“Aha” moment: The founders—who are based in Portland, Ore. (where else?)—were lovers of craft beer but not of traditional glass growlers, which can let brews go flat, warm and stale, leading to the discarding of limited-edition IPA (the dreaded “drain pour”). The team searched in vain for a pressurized growler that would keep beer fresh and cold.
“I realized there was an opportunity to come out with a distinctive design and to improve the technology so we could offer something that people really need,” Huff says.
Rough draft: The founders—all engineers—3-D printed a plastic prototype, self-funding the project to the tune of $80,000. After receiving a positive response from brewers, they launched a Kickstarter campaign in October 2014, raising more than $1.5 million from 10,000-plus fans. They set up shop to perfect the product at the GrowlerWerks Design Center for Excellence (aka Sonnichsen’s basement).
Fresh pour: The vacuum-insulated uKeg growler has a removable tap and is topped with a patent-pending variable regulation pressure cap, powered by food-grade CO2 cartridges, that maintains the internal pressure necessary to keep brews fresh and bubbly. The growler is double-walled to keep heat out. Rege was responsible for the growler’s distinctive look; it comes in either stainless steel or copper-plating and has aesthetic elements that echo those of traditional breweries, making it attractive enough to put out on a table.
As they learned from their own product-testing, growler cleanliness can affect the taste of beer, so the team made sure the uKeg was easy to take apart and clean.
Starting a tab: After a futile search for a domestic manufacturer, the team turned to a Chinese supplier with expertise in manufacturing double-wall vacuum-sealed stainless-steel bottles.
The uKeg is being produced in 64- and 128-ounce sizes, ranging in price from $129 to $179. Delivery of the first 12,500 units was scheduled in September for Kickstarter backers, with general retail available this fall through Growlerwerks.com, Amazon and select breweries and brewpubs.
Next round: Maier left the company last summer. Seeking more business know-how, the remaining engineers recruited an advisory board experienced with early-stage business development. They have also been courting angel investors to provide the funds that will enable them to keep producing uKegs.
Future projects include broader-market devices for transporting hard cider, sparkling wine and soda. And in response to requests for a streamlined uKeg, the team is developing The Voyager, a growler without the tap assembly. Explains Huff: “It’s the version you can take snowboarding.”