By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
A new Bellingham growler shop is using the latest technology to deliver the freshest possible beer.
Growler’s Keep opened in October at 436 West Bakerview Road, Suite 111, in Bakerview Square in Bellingham.
Sandy Petersen was inspired to open Growler’s Keep when he frequented The Growler Station in North Bend. He would stock up on his favorite beers, and their special growler refill system meant the unopened growlers could stay fresh for months.
After retiring from his job in public works for Whatcom County, Petersen enlisted the help of his daughter Rachel Sullivan and James Sullivan to open the shop, and bring the same technology to Bellingham.
The name emphasizes their straightforward business — they do growlers only, and the beer stays fresh for months instead of days. But once they came up with Growler’s Keep, they decided to embrace the medieval castle theme.
Murals on the walls set the scene. The counter is a live edge slab of black walnut. A functional, counter-weighted drawbridge provides access to the back of the counter.
Currently, they have 48 taps. Of those, 40 are beers, four are ciders, two are kombuchas and two are root beers.
“I try to get as many different breweries as I could,” James Sullivan said.
In researching what beers to stock, he reached out the Washington Homebrewer’s Association and asked the beer enthusiasts there which beers are most popular, which are hardest to find.
“It was kind of a balancing act,” he said. “We wanted to get local breweries but we also wanted to get things you can’t really get in Bellingham.”
Surprisingly, root beer has been their biggest seller.
They started with Rogue Ale’s root beer, just to have something family-friendly on tap. When they saw how popular it was, they added another root beer from Mukilteo’s Diamond Knot.
Petersen’s background in engineering came in handy when it came to the actual tap layout. He figured out how to run the beer directly from the cooler to the tap — meaning no need for a glycol coolant hose, which can run around $30 per foot.
Petersen also designed a system to offer samples without using the high-tech refill system.
The growler refill system works by limiting the beer’s contact with any oxygen. When the refill starts, the machine first fills the empty growler with carbon dioxide, displacing the oxygen in the bottle. That way, the entire time it’s filling, the beer isn’t touching any oxygen. The system also fills the growler more slowly, to minimize foam and preserve the carbonation.
“It’s a slower, non-agitated fill,” Petersen said.
When the growler is full, another layer of carbon dioxide is shot through the hose, to clean the line and to create a protective layer on the surface of the beer, further shielding it from any oxygen.
“It’s a negligible, insignificant amount of air contact,” Petersen said.
When filled with this system, an unopened growler can stay fresh for two to six months, depending on the type of beer.
Petersen tested that himself, on accident when he forgot a growler from North Bend in the back of the fridge for six months.
When he rediscovered it and cracked it open, the beer was still fresh.