You never know where or when inspiration is going to hit you. For Karen Poulsen, it was over a meal. She was living in Oregon and having lunch with a friend when she commented on the abundance of growler-filling stations in Bend.
It was then and there that she decided to come out of retirement and start Growler Grlz, a business she loosely refers to as a "convenience store for draft beer." "It's a place you can grab it and go," she said.
She moved to the area specifically to open the store. She had considered Austin, Texas, but knew people "were crazy about craft beer here," Poulsen said.
As we sat at the bar at Lynnwood Grill just off of Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh, she explained how it all came together. She had moved here last March not knowing that North Carolina didn't have laws on the books for growler-filling stations. "The growler law wasn't even a thought," she said smiling. "My Realtor informed me of it. And said he heard it was illegal."
The bill was introduced a month later in April and passed in June 2013.
"I was predestined to be here," she said matter-of-factly.
Sanitation, she explained, is the key to growler-filling stations; the importance of the dishwasher is trumped only by the selection of beer. "In North Carolina, every growler station is responsible for their growlers, unlike in Oregon, where it falls on the customer," she said.
At Growler Grlz, you don't have to use a branded growler of theirs to fill; you can bring in any growler and they will fill it with your beer of choice.
"You might have to wait a few minutes for us to clean it, but we will fill any growler." She added, "But we cannot pre-fill nor can we distribute."
Located in Hope Valley Pointe in Durham, the shop is under 1,000 square feet. With space for 20 people and a mere 12 bar stools, it's not really trying to be a hangout destination. "We wanted to be in a busy shopping center where people could pop in and just grab-and-go," Poulsen said of her choice of spots. "Plus, everybody said that if you are doing craft beer, you have to go to Durham."
Poulsen explained that if you want to try a beer before buying it, you can drink a pint or order a flight onsite. She also plans to host events like tastings and food & beer pairings.
Growlers will be available in 32-ounce and 64-ounce sizes. The cost of the growler is $5 but you can use them for eternity. "My business won't have much in the way when it comes to recycling," she said with a grin. "We keep it simple by keeping it reusable."
Poulsen herself enjoys milk stouts and wit beers, so it wasn't a surprise when she ordered a dry Irish stout during our late afternoon lunch. I ordered an English brown ale, which coincidentally, was my gateway style into the world of craft beer.
As a woman in the craft beer world, Poulsen wants to establish the first North Carolina chapter of Barley's Angels, with the Growler Grlz store being the epicenter for charitable events and a place to teach women about craft beer and the industry.
She has been contacting brewers to forge relationships and have them teach her about the idiosyncrasies of their beers. "We need to be able to educate the public on the beer we serve," she explained.
She is working with her operations manager on a list of beers they will have on tap, which will number 42. Why 42? "Have you ever read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?" she asked me. "It's the answer to 'everything'."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fill'er up"