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Business: For beer startup, froth is only in sales
By Jason Lesley
Randy Hollister has literally tapped into the growing craft beer industry.
At the suggestion of his son Ken, Hollister invented a countertop dispenser for half-gallon bottles, named growlers, that allows beer to stay fresh for weeks rather than a day or two. He calls it the Growler Chill.
Hollister, a resident of Pawleys Plantation, said he couldn’t believe the product wasn’t already on the market because of the popularity of craft beer and growlers. “We just crossed 5,000 breweries in the United States in November,” he said. “That means there are 75,000 to 100,000 beers brewed every year in the U.S. that never see a bottle or a can. They are only available on tap. If you want to bring it home, the growler is the only real option for you.”
Hollister said there are four things that make beer happy: It likes to be cold, under pressure, away from light and protected from oxygen. “When you bring a growler home and take the lid off,” Hollister said, “you have exposed it to oxygen and let the CO2 out. It’s good for a day at most before you really start noticing a difference in what you brought home. What we set out to do was solve the growler problem, solve perishability.”
Growler Chill, he said, allows beer drinkers to keep a variety of flavors on tap for weeks. Because Growler Chill turns the bottles upside-down, wasteful foam at the end is minimal. Limiting wasted beer is one of Growler Chill’s selling points.
“The brewers love it,” Hollister said, “because it lets people take home more beer, take home a variety. If you like a little chocolate stout as a nightcap, you are not going to take that home in a growler.”
Hollister said he worked with Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing in Florence on the preliminary engineering and came up with a prototype to show at beer festivals and get feedback. He calls that his “toaster oven model” before settling on a more retro beer tap design with a slot to purge oxygen from the growler after exchanging the caps. “If you don’t get that oxygen out of there,” he said, “it’s not going to last long enough. So we started to work on that, and it’s evolved over the course of the year.”
Growler Chill allows owners to check their beer supply by an app on their smart phones, and a digital readout on the cooler displays the name of the beer under each tap.
The product will not be available for delivery until August. Hollister has found a manufacturer on the Grand Strand — his office is in downtown Myrtle Beach. He has conceded to buying compressors from Asia because of the low price but wants the boxes assembled in America. He’s heard troublesome stories about products manufactured in China.
Growler Chill is using the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to launch. Hollister has almost $400,000 in sales commitments from customers who have only seen a prototype in person or on the internet. “If they are a craft beer drinker and have ever bought a growler,” he said, “it’s a 10-second sales pitch.”
Kickstarter backers get the product at a discount from its $439 retail price and first delivery. “Kickstarter gives us market validation,” Hollister said. “We have $300,000 in real dollars saying, yes, I want one.”
Growler Chill launched its Kickstarter campaign Jan. 26 and hit $100,000 in 11 hours. The company’s goal of $175,000 in sales was surpassed in 19 hours. Now it has 769 backers and is getting noticed in the tech and craft beer press. Hollister said he has done “beercast” interviews with stations around the country on a regular basis.
He said Growler Chill has been a great adventure. The only melancholy part is that he lost his wife, Debbie, four months ago after a long illness. “That’s been sad,” he said, “but we keep going.” The Growler Chill video on Kickstarter features a photo of Debbie Hollister at one of the beer festivals they attended.
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