Gwinnett 'growler' pioneer rides draft-beer-to-go craze

Greg Lindquist is the owner of The Best of Brews, which serves draft beer in growlers, off Main Street in Downtown Duluth. The shop currently has 30 beers on tap and Lindquist hopes to open more growler shops in the future. 

Greg Lindquist is the owner of The Best of Brews, which serves draft beer in growlers, off Main Street in Downtown Duluth. The shop currently has 30 beers on tap and Lindquist hopes to open more growler shops in the future. 

How the growler got its name

The term “growler” is believed to dated back more than a century to when beer was carried home in small galvanized pales. The sloshing beer released carbon dioxide, which created a rumbling or growling sound when it breached the pale’s lid.

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Gwinnett growler

View more photos from Best of Brews, Gwinnett's lone place to buy "growlers."


Best of Brews

Best of Brews

DULUTH -- As an undergrad communications major at the University of Georgia, Greg Lindquist used to slip down to the 7-Eleven on Prince Avenue to fill his milk jugs with draft beer. He had a soft spot for the froth, the freshness.

Later, when Lindquist's career in sales dragged him around the country, he'd load his suitcases with jugs of beer the Ohioans, Pennsylvanians and Coloradans were calling "growlers," unveiling so many sudsy wonders at home in unincorporated Duluth he had to start recycling the keepsake jugs to save space.

He rarely shied from cracking open a growler in his garage to share his findings. And some things don't change.

"I was the hit of the neighborhood," the gregarious Lindquist recalled.

These days, Lindquist has sold his high-tech business and hitched his entrepreneurial ambitions to the draft-beer-to-go craze that's blazed a following in Atlanta since a glitch in Athens' alcohol ordinance came to light last year, birthing Georgia's first growler shop. While filling a jug might be possible elsewhere in the suburbs, Lindquist's Best of Brews in downtown Duluth is the first growler-only haven for beer aficionados outside Interstate 285.

The store, affectionately known as the B.O.B., opened in late September in a 130-year-old building that formerly housed Economy Pharmacy and the Bank of Duluth (the vault exists and would make an ideal beer-aging facility, Lindquist muses). The space overlooks a busy three-way stop and is awaiting vintage, permanent signage. In its first two months, the B.O.B. had dished more than 4,000 growler jugs and refills, at prices ranging from around $9 (common domestic) to $22 (potent, imperial brown ale).

"The key to this business is selling beer you can't find in a restaurant, beer you can't find in a bottle, beer you can't find on the shelf," said Lindquist, 60, a Scoutmaster in his free time. "We don't compete against six packs; we compete against the guy at Taco Mac having two pints of beer."

For the uninitiated, the growler concept works as follows:

Patrons buy a 64-ounce growler (that's four pints, or a little more than five bottled beers) for $6. Lindquist sells smaller, plastic jugs more suited to samples, too. (No in-store samples are allowed, but that could change with predicted tweaks in legislation).

The next step is to pick from 30 draft beers that run the gamut from pilsners to porters with rare finds like Red Hare Brewery's British Nut Brown Ale. Bring back the drained growler and swap it out for a pre-sterilized jug.

Like other hop heads Lindquist swears there's a day-night difference in the taste of his drafts versus bottled beer, which he points out is pasteurized and heat-treated. He estimates unopened growlers will stay fresh up to a week, or a least a day for opened jugs.

"Opened, treat it like a two-liter Coke bottle," he advised.

Tipsy venture

Best of Brews is a leap of faith shared by Lindquist and his high-school-sweetheart wife, Betsy, who recently took an early retirement option from Cisco. Both felt they were too young to retire, and they knew they'd have a leg up on more youthful, growler-focused competitors who'd have to borrow upstart capital.

Duluth had five liquor stores in the city proper, so it took some salesmanship (and an elaborate presentation) on Lindquist's part earlier this year to sell city dignitaries on his concept. City council members had coined him the "Growler Guy" before the business was officially green-lighted, he said.

Lindquist admits he had reservations about staking his dreams in Duluth's historic district. That he joined a wave of seven new downtown businesses opening at the same time helped assuage those fears.

"I thought downtown Duluth is death -- there were 10 empty stores down here," he said. "Sleepy little Duluth is coming alive."

Up the street, Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris counts herself as a fan.

"The B.O.B. has added another unique destination to historic downtown," she said. "It's giving locals an option to learn more about and experience the art of craft-beer brewing."

The seed for Georgia's growler movement was planted last year with the opening of Athens' The Beer Growler. Atlanta's first growler shop, the westside homebrew supply store Hop City, opened in April. More limited offerings of taps have since surfaced at neighborhood grocers and a handful of Whole Foods locations.

Once firmly in the black, Lindquist envisions hiring an employee and opening a second location. He has his eye on six more possible locations.

"My goal is to open one of these stores every nine months until I have five or six of them," he said.

During a recent visit, the question of Sunday sales was being left up to Best of Brews' customers. Lindquist, who was cleared to sell Sunday beer as of Nov. 20, was keeping an informal poll, with his only day off at stake.

Yes votes were leading that day 16-3.

For revised lists of beers on tap, store hours and other information, visit www.thebestofbrews.com