LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas' increasing number of microbreweries have more outlets for their wares — any store with a retail beer permit that is willing to buy tanks, pumps and reusable 32- and 64-ounce bottles known as growlers.
Until a change in the state's liquor policy last Tuesday, most small brewers were selling only at their production site or in restaurants and bars where they could deliver kegs. Now, it's possible to grab two or four tap-fresh pints at the corner store.
"I've hoped for this a long time but I never thought I'd see it," said Nathan Pittman, who stopped at Road Runner convenience store Thursday for a half-gallon of Summit Saga IPA. "I'm a beer nerd and love exotic offerings."
Michael Langley, the director of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Division at the state Department of Finance and Administration, said it's unlikely that every place that sells beer will also set up a growler station.
"It's certainly cost prohibitive as to who is going to get into it — putting in a keg system and investing in supplies. An eight-tap system is going to cost you several thousand dollars," Langley said.
NOT NEW TO ALL: Growlers aren't entirely new in Arkansas, but the change in the law is intended to greatly increase the number of locations where they're available.
"We've gone from two to 19 breweries in the last few years, but a lot of these guys don't have the ability to produce (bottles and cans). They may have a keg on tap at a local restaurant," Langley said. "This will allow those guys to expand and allow them to compete."
Jonas Dunnaway, the sales manager at Core Brewing and Distilling Co. in Springdale, created in 2010, said the state recognizes the growing value of specialty brewing.
"They're just seeing the economic growth of all these breweries popping up around the country," Dunnaway said Saturday. Core has 12 employees and a canning and bottling line.
The retail locations can also sell beer produced out-of-state; the beer Pittman purchased is brewed in St. Paul, Minnesota.
WHO'S BUYING AND WHEN? The recent upswing in microbreweries is bringing a variety of beer drinkers to the tap.
"Sometimes it's connoisseurs, sometimes it's people who want to try something different," said Josh Quattlebaum, the head brewer at Bosco's, a restaurant in downtown Little Rock that has made its own beer since 2001.
Under the law, microbreweries will still be able to sell on their premises seven days a week. Stores with a retail beer permit will not be able to sell growlers on Sundays, just as they can't sell canned or bottled beer.
NONE FOR THE ROAD: Drinking and driving is illegal. The intent of selling growlers of craft beers is to have patrons take the beer away and enjoy it at home. Stores cannot offer free samples.
"We're not allowing you to drink it on the premises. Sell it and seal it," Langley said. After being capped, bottles are sealed with a strap akin to old revenue seals on whiskey bottles. "We're not going to let people pull their own beer or stand around and drink."
Tony Tabor, the district manager at the Road Runner convenience store, said merchants need to rely on customers obeying the law.
"It's no different than what you do with a bottle you take out of the cooler," Tabor said.
IT BEATS THE BARS: The Summit IPA and Core's Oatmeal Stout cost $5.99 for two pints last week — a better buy than could be had at most nearby bars. Pittman liked that he could pop the top at home.
"I've got kids. I can't go to the bar and drink all of the time," he said.