by Mike Dunphy
It takes a minute to get the joke behind the logo of Bear Naked Growler, a beer filling-and-swilling station that opened in September on River Street. The mischievous grin of the bear has less to do with the jug in his paws than the sign strategically positioned across his loins and the full moon behind.
Somewhat hidden behind Trading Post on the banks of the Winooski, Bear Naked Growler adds yet another blip on the global beer radar that increasingly looks to Vermont, so much so that “Vermont-style” IPAs are popping up at breweries as far away as Żywiec, Poland, and Žďár nad Sázavou, Czech Republic.
For those uninitiated with the “growler,” it’s essentially a jug of beer totaling a half-gallon (or 1.89 liters for those more metrically inclined). The attraction for fans is the ability to bring home beer fresh from the tap, rather than in potentially “skunky” bottles, which usually travel longer distances and are subject to more injury and degradation—especially ultraviolet light—along the way. Sealed air-tight by one of four high-tech Pegas CrafTap machines, Bear Naked’s growlers can maintain freshness for up to 45 days, until opened.
“The only other place I know that’s like this is up in Burlington, at Growler Garage,” said owner Floyd Dickinson, who went into the beer business with his son after nine years as the chief operating officer of Comfort Colors, a clothing manufacturer. “I wanted it to be a growler filling station, with a little retail, but because you can’t sample or give beer away for nothing without a license, I decided I might as well have a bar, too.”
Beer lovers certainly have their work cut out for them, with 18 lines of beer for growlers and another 32 for the pint glass, not to mention an array of ciders, nitro stouts, and wine also on draught. Owing to supply and demand, taps change often, with some—such as the Avancé “American wild ale” by Allagash, port-wine-barrel-aged Puddin’ Barleywine by Dogfish Head, and Cloud Drop Pale Ale by Upper Pass in Tunbridge—coming in at very limited quantities and periods. Vermont beers, of course, figure prominently. “My goal is to try to carry at least 50 percent Vermont beers, and I am usually a little higher than that,” explained Dickinson
Amid riffs of Aerosmith and Queen, Bear Naked is conspicuous with its atypical brewpub design—at least for Vermont—adopting a bright, metallic, industrial décor reminiscent of an actual brewery as opposed to the woody, earthy, quirk-laden craft beer bars like Three Penny Taproom or Prohibition Pig. Whether that’s appealing or not is a question of personal taste, but no one can deny that once the back porch—overlooking a small waterfall on the river—opens in spring, there will be few better spots to quaff a pint in the area. Plus, as Dickinson pointed out about the location, it’ll be a lot easier getting in and out than downtown. “I wanted to give people the opportunity to be able to come into a place that has parking and be able to get a growler without having to look for a parking spot for 20 minutes.”
Even with the growing market for Vermont beer, starting any new business is a challenge, and Bear Naked Growler is no different. “Right now we’re basically just getting our feet off the ground, getting people in here, knowing what we have. I’m on Facebook; I’ve got my webpage, and I’m on the “Untappd” app, so it’s really starting to pick up, and everybody that comes in says, ‘Oh, I have to tell my friends.’”