Photo by Caitlin Abrams
You’ve heard of growlers, right? The refillable half-gallon containers that all the microbreweries in Minnesota use as as their off-sale component? Well, micro-distillery cocktail rooms are about to have their own 375 milliliter version.
Here's how the whole thing came to be. Distributors (the guys who drive booze from manufacturer to store) and liquor stores didn’t want the breweries to cut into their territory. The growler was the compromise, because it was weird enough and different enough that liquor stores and distributors figured it would never replace six packs and cases, and wouldn’t cut into their core business. Now that same principal is simply being applied to booze.
Remember a couple weeks back, when the State House shot down the chance for us all to buy liquor on Sundays?
That day the legislature passed Omnibus Liquor Bill that one big, important provision for local distilleries. In the state of Minnesota it is now legal for a local liquor licensing authority (for instance the city of Minneapolis, the city of Brooklyn Park, the city of Duluth) to issue a license to a micro-distillery to sell one (and only one) 375 milliliter bottle per customer, per day of an alcohol product produced on site. The city of Minneapolis already had a hearing on amending the city liquor code to accommodate micro-distillers selling these bottles, and a number of distillers have already filed paperwork to get the appropriate license.
A 375 ml bottle isn't huge. In fact, it's half the size of a regular wine bottle and just a shade bigger than a standard 12-ounce soda or beer. Put another way, 375 ml of gin makes about four or five martinis. It’s a weird size. But weirder yet is what to call it. My colleague Steph March suggests we call it a pocket rocket. In Australia they call this size of beer a stubby. In wine I’ve heard them called demis. I suggest we get all the poets in the state in a room and give them micro-distilled drinks till they come up with a cute name like growler. A grumbler? A grouser?
I talked to a few local distillers and grumble and grouse is pretty much their universal reaction. No one wanted to be quoted because they don’t want to seem ungrateful, but 375 milliliters is a strange size that presents challenges. If they use custom bottles, like Far North and Vikre do, they have to design whole new bottles, whole new labels, get dies made, pay for test runs—it’s a big investment. Because the liquor bill contained a provision stating that anything available in the distillery also has to be available to distributors—preventing that thing that happens when beer fans make a special run to buy only-in-brewery specials—distillers will also have to get boxes and cases for the shipping of 375 milliliter bottles. And, unlike their growler-rich brewery counterparts, the sale of one 375 milliliter bottle per customer, per day is likely not going to be a total mortgage lifter.
Yet, I think this is a net gain for the average local cocktail fan. First, it will be fun to have these new little bottles around. For travel! For flower vases! But mainly: For experiments and gifts. I expect liquor stores will start to amass little sections of doll-sized liquor bottles, and at Christmas you will see Vikre or 11 Wells release boxes of two or three packaged together, in gift sets, and it will allow local mixer- and flavor- houses to package, say, a small batch seasonal bottled tonic with a special seasonal gin. That will be fun. It will also be weird. Still, now you know what’s coming, and why—and if you’ve got a better name for them post it in the comments, if we’re going to be living with this little guy we need to give him a name.