MEDFORD, Ore. – Paul Woolley pours a fresh serving of his latest IPA. After waiting for the thick head to subside, he sniffs it and gingerly takes a sip.
The yet-to-be-released beer, the 5-Speed IPA, is the newest batch from Rusty Bucket – Woolley’s tiny, one-barrel operation.
“I’m sure Caldera spills that much on their bottling line,” said Woolley. “But you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Each of Woolley’s beers are brewed in his old auto garage, using the same 12-gallon system he started homebrewing with six years ago.
Making enough to bottle and distribute, he says, would cost enough to put him out of business.
“You’re talking a $100,000 plus just for a seven barrel system,” said Woolley.
Just a few years ago, home brewers like Woolley would have a tough time getting off the ground. But that’s changing thanks to growler stations that are selling his beers, and those like it, by the keg-load.
Growler King, Medford’s first growler fill-up station, has only been around for just over a year. They say business for the refillable bottles, once limited to a select few beer lovers, has doubled in that time.
“They want to take a growler. They don’t want to buy a six-pack anymore,” said Ashlee Hope, a server at Growler King. “It’s definitely changed.”
That explosion in demand is due in large part to a growing sense of adventure among beer drinkers.
Growler stations rotate beers at the rate they sell out. In the case of one of Woolley’s beers, that can happen in 48 hours or less. They also feature beers that don’t sell anywhere else – often beers local to the Rogue Valley.
Whereas that obscurity used to be an impediment to starting a brewery, Woolley says it has helped the growler business grow the point where it can completely support a small brewer.
“That’s all we sell to at this point,” said Woolley.
It has also launched his business to the cusp of what five years ago would only have been a pipe dream.
“Five years from now we’ll have a tap room,” said Woolley. “We’ll be just happy campers making beer.”