Staff Photo: John Bohn At The Beer Growler, a business in Suwanee, draught beer tap heads from many brands of beer, await to be used to fill customer desires for fresh draught beer sold in growler containers. Gwinnett County has three operating beer growler businesses located in Lawrenceville, Duluth and Suwanee.
The draft beer-to-go craze is pouring all over Gwinnett.
Since Best of Brews opened in Duluth nearly a year ago, Exhibit A(le) opened in Lawrenceville in July and The Beer Growler in Suwanee, which opened about a month ago, have also given guzzlers around Gwinnett more options for craft beer. All three owners of these businesses have also played leading roles in rewriting local or state alcohol laws to open their businesses.
While Suwanee franchisee Curtis Stockwell is connected to the ownership group that opened the first store in the state, in Athens in 2010, which is credited with getting state officials to reinterpret the law, Best of Brews owner Greg Lindquist said he worked with city officials in Duluth to rewrite 150 pages of laws related to alcohol.
Lindquist worked in sales for a Fortune 100 company and traveled the country before he convinced his wife to open Best of Brews in Duluth.
Jesse Hachat, a Snellville native, is a practicing lawyer while he owns Exhibit A(le) in Lawrenceville.
"I just wanted to do it, and kind of got sick of practicing law full time," said Hachat, who primarily works in probate law, wills, collections and bankruptcies. "I still practice, but would rather not. I didn't put much effort into researching (the business side), because I think they're such a cool idea and people come. Of course, I'd like a lot more business, but for the most part I feel like I'm doing pretty decent."
Stockwell, a North Gwinnett graduate, previously worked for the ownership group of Denny Young, Paul Sanders and Sean Galvin, who operate three stores around the state, including the Athens location, before he decided to open his own franchise.
The beer-to-go craze has grown across the metro Atlanta area, and is especially popular in places like Alpharetta, Sandy Springs and Roswell.
Hachat said he first noticed the concept in Charleston, S.C., but the growler concept and popularity is largely in the North and Midwest, in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado.
Lindquist said the popularity can be explained by the growth of his business in a year from two employees to eight, and the fact that his 1,000-square-foot space could be expanded.
"If consumer awareness continues to grow, it's going to be a great business," he said.
Hachat added that in the nearly three months he's been open, business is about 30 percent better than he expected.
To get the proper paperwork, licenses and to abide by local and state ordinances, Lindquist said he had to convince city officials about the concept of a growler and his business model.
But the newness of the industry, especially in the South, is what appealed to him.
"I looked at what I thought was a new business, a new concept in the state of Georgia," Lindquist said. "I looked at how much I thought I had to sell a month to stay open, and what type of household buys that, what kind of income level buys that."
Hachat said his customer base are people in their 40s and 50s who, surprisingly to him, are open to trying new flavors. Stockwell said he's noticed an uptick in sales on football gamedays when customers pick up growlers to take home with them to watch games, or to tailgates.
Recently, laws in Duluth and Lawrenceville have changed to allow growler store customers to sample beer. Hachat said the city laws allow him to provide samples for sale at $1.50 for one three-ounce cup, or $5 for four samples within a 24-hour period. Hachat said he's required to charge for samples.
Lindquist and Stockwell both said they also allow free samples to customers who buy growlers.
Lindquist and Hachat agree that allowing samples hasn't necessarily led to a spike in sales, but it has increased traffic.
"I'm not convinced it really helps sales," Hachat said. "Because I feel like the most sampling I get is on a Friday night after people have been to (bars around town) and they're just looking for another beer."
The cost of growlers varies by size and type of beer. The store owners said they generally begin at $6 for a 32-ounce, and go to $25 for a high-end 64-ounce. Stockwell and Hachat sell 32 and 64-ounce growlers, but Lindquist said after the Duluth alcohol laws were rewritten, he's allowed to sell growlers of 12, 16, 32, 64, 68 and 128 ounces.
The stores offer between 30 and 40 types of beer and rotate between 10 and 20 per week depending on popularity and time of year.
A 32-ounce growler consists of two pints of beer, while a 64 is four pints, or a little more than five bottled beers.
Kegs typically travel from the brewery to the store in a month, Stockwell said.
"Our platform offers fresh, craft, draft beer to be brought home," Stockwell said. "The attraction of draft beer is it's not pasteurized. It's fresh because it's kegged. With a bottle, you run the risk of (it being) on the shelf for a long time."
Growth in the craft beer and growlers-to-go business seems to continue in the next five and 10 years. Hachat compared it to the wine industry, which experienced a recent boom and continues to grow.
The Brewers Association, which tracks the beer market, reported that craft beer produced 11.5 million barrels last year, an increase of 13.2 percent from 2010. Perhaps more telling, Anheuser-Busch's U.S. market share last year dropped the same amount as craft beer market share grew.
"I would assume the craft beer brands are going to keep growing, and the big boys are going to keep losing the market share like they are," Hachat said. "They're not losing tons, but craft beer is definitely on the rise, and I feel like it will keep going."
The store owners, though, are unsure of growth in Gwinnett, and if three stores has saturated the local market. Lindquist said he would like to expand his business, but declined to offer details.
"I'm happy there are other stores around because it raises the awareness of beer in a growler," Stockwell said. "A lot of people enjoy really good beer, and being able to bring draft beer home is such a novel concept. I feel like there's enough customers to go around."