More details emerge about the LCBO’s growler program

LCBO Growlers

On Monday August 24th, the LCBO sent an email to some of Ontario’s craft brewers to invite them to submit products for the launch of their growler fill program that will start with their flagship Summerhill location.

Ben’s Beer Blog has obtained a copy of the email and it includes some details about the program that until now have been something of a mystery.

The email reveals that the space will include the LCBO’s first growler station as well as a craft beer tasting bar. Furthermore they are actively seeking beer that they don’t already have available for sale in packaged format (so we won’t see the Bud Zone Growler Station as some beer nerd grumbling posited).

The LCBO has indicated that their staff will dispense beer directly from kegs into the growler; however, it did not reveal if they would be investing in a proper growler filler or merely filling them from a draught tap (presumably–and hopefully–it’s the former given their investment in this).

Customers will also have the option to buy prefilled, refrigerated growlers.

Interestingly, the LCBO will be selling branded growlers for customers to purchase, return, and exchange for refill and they will only be accepting and filling LCBO-branded growlers. I’m personally curious to see if they invest in a unique and interesting design for their growler. Here’s hoping they work with local artists or do at least something funkier than slapping an LCBO logo on a standard growler. The growlers will be tagged at the time of filling to indicate product, producer name, alcohol content, and fill date.

At this time, there is no formal product call or NISS product submission required and brewers are being asked to participate on an invitation-only basis. I don’t currently have a list of who has been invited–but I’m interested to see to whom they are reaching out.  Given that the invite indicates brewers will need to use direct delivery (as opposed to suppliers that currently use the LCBO Warehouse), it’s probably safe to assume that the first wave of brewers participating in the growler program at Summerhill will be based in Toronto or fairly close to it.

There are still a few questions I have, namely: where is the information about storage and the necessary investment in infrastructure? A call for kegs for onsite growler fills means the Summerhill LCBO will need to build cold storage facilities.

Furthermore, if they are going to wash their own growlers, they’ll need space for a growler washer. Presumably, if this program is popular, it could see considerable turnover of growlers. That means they’ll need a fairly efficient (and presumably not small) growler washer.

Factor in the call for pre-filled, refrigerated growlers and this program seems likely to take up a lot of physical space. Where will cold keg storage, a growler washer, and fridges full of growlers fit in at the Summerhill LCBO? How big is this growler station?

Lastly, I assume the program is going to start small so that volumes of beer don’t languish, but there wasn’t much talk in the email invite about ensuring freshness–something that is key to the enjoyment of growlers. Hopefully the LCBO can establish a system to ensure product is either moving briskly or being taken off shelves (in the case of refrigerated, pre-filled growlers) after a best before date.

Some Additional Information that was provided to brewers:

  • Product to be packaged in a standard size 50L or 58L Straight Standard Keg.
  • Kegs used must be the generic Kegs used in TBS keg pools to fit standard industry taps.
  • Kegs will be returned to Supplier.  There is no deposit on the keg.
  • Products currently available for sale in package format at the LCBO do not qualify for this program.
  • Products can be seasonal, limited edition, or specially brewed for the program.
  • Supplier to provide 3 draught handles to LCBO Summerhill for growler bar tap handles per listing.

So I guess so much for speculation about how, if, and when this program will launch. They are currently asking for  beers that will be available in September and October so it seems like they’re all systems go and, a few unanswered questions aside, it seems to me like they’re approaching this in a pretty logical and interesting way. Could it be that LCBO growler fills will be represent actual progress in Ontario’s craft beer scene?

What do you think?

21 thoughts on “More details emerge about the LCBO’s growler program

  1. Only available to selections not already in pre-packaged format at LCBO? Well, there goes my craft beer favourites! I think this program is destined to fail if that aspect of it stays.

    1. Really? I like the idea that it won’t feature stuff that’s already there in another format. That seems redundant. It always irks me that Bud, for example, already has five SKUs at the LCBO for the same shit in different formats. What a waste of space that could be used by good beer.

      1. I agree – when I first heard about this my hopes were that it would be used to feature beers not presently in the LCBO. In that aspect, I see its value.

      2. Trust me, I’m not in interested in buying any non-craft mainstream beers in growlers eg Bud, Molson, etc but would love to see some of the more popular Craft fare featured at the stations. The latter would excite me more than knowing that it is seasonals and new flavours at the stations which it seems to be gearing towards.

  2. I have just noticed for this first time that this artist’s rendering features the label for Bellwoods Brewery’s Farmhouse Classic. Presumably this is wishful thinking on the part of the LCBO or just a designer taking artistic liberties, but it’s pretty amusing–and may speak to the kinds of brewers they’ll be targeting (i.e. small, local, not in the LCBO already).

  3. I believe that the LCBO are taking over/renovating the cafe next door (Timothy’s?), with the idea of that being the growler/tasting space. That would deal with the space issues.

  4. I walked by Summerhill the other day and saw they’ve put fridges around most of the walls in the renovation space, but they seem to be behind enough that it’s not clear where they could actually stash all those kegs.

    1. The summerhill location actually has a large walk in fridge in the back where a lot of kegs could be stored. It’s usually full of skids of the best selling beers, but could easily be arranged to make room for a large amount of kegs.

  5. I just came back from Vermont where you can get growlers filled basically anywhere and get local craft beer at roadside farmers market stores. it’s sad to see that we are so far away from getting any of these nice things.

    1. And this is the main counter point in this whole news release that’s largely being overlooked. The LCBO has always tried to prevent that kind of free market, and this half-measure delays that further in my opinion.

      I’m not complaining, I would really like to see this program work, (though I’m skeptical it really does, especially if they have to retrofit more than one location). But more than anything I’m afraid this will set us back in the long run, with the LCBO continuing to echo, “but we don’t need a free market – we made you a growler station!”

  6. I buy lots of beer, very little of it in growlers, so I’m not terribly excited by this news. That said, if the programme pulls in not-currently-at-the-LCBO breweries like Bellwoods or Indie Ale House it will be a marginal improvement. I think that’s quite unlikely though.

    I wonder how well the LCBO will publicise what they have in growler.

  7. Oh great. An already quite decent location for craft beer gets all the marbles. Those of us who don’t live in the centre of the Centre of the Universe ™ might as well go piss up a rope. What next? Advanced leaks that all the grocery stores beer sales in the first wave will be in the GTA as well?

    After all this time, not a word about online sales. That was something really interesting and valuable to those of us out in the outer darkness.

  8. If the ‘BO is requesting draft handles with each submission, doesn’t this suggest the growlers are just filled off the taps as opposed to a proper counter pressure growler filler? I hope not…

    1. I agree hopefully theu use a counter pressure filler like they are in Manitoba. Without counter pressure filling there is no way they can pre fill them…….

  9. Yes growlers have their aesthetic & nostalgic appeal however they are not the best way to transport & sell beer IMHO. They require a high level of maintenance which becomes costly (cleaning, sanitizing, filling… etc), they do not stay fresh for long after filling and they must be consumed quickly after opening.

    This LCBO decision isn’t based on promoting craft beers, craft brewers or even the craft beer industry in general but rather a way of generating new revenues on the back of a perceived “craft beer” popularity.

    I read the pilot program is to initially offer 3 filling taps. Only 3 filling taps with over 20+ popular beer styles seems like a paltry investment to test the market with. I suspect that a few obscure/less popular selections could kill the whole project. I also believe this could open the door to “craft” or “one off” brews by some InBev affiliates aimed at blocking the competition from accessing the market and not making good beer.

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