Prescriptions Filled

Christine Williams fills a growler with Puget Sound Porter at the Greenwood Bartell Drugs.

Draft beer comes to the drugstore.

Today’s shopping list includes hand soap, paper towels, dog treats and one half-gallon of draft beer. So I’m heading to Bartell Drugs.

The nation’s oldest drugstore chain, based in Seattle since its 1890 inception, opened two new stores in recent months, one in South Lake Union and the other in Greenwood. Both feature a brand-new growler-fill program: Bring to the store a standard issue 64-ounce jug, aka growler, and fill it with any of six locally brewed beers on tap for about 10 bucks. If you don’t have your own growler, you can buy one for $9.

“It makes sense,” says Steven Fenster, the manager at Bartell’s SLU location who’s heading the company’s growler program. “Most of the wine we sell is from Washington, so I thought we should sell beer and support local breweries as well.”

Fenster was inspired to bring beer into his workplace by a particularly American, particularly autumnal tradition. “My friends and I have been getting growlers from local breweries for a while now on Sundays for football games,” he says. Game day is an appropriate occasion for a growler—to maximize freshness and flavor, you wanna drink the whole thing in one sitting, so sharing with friends is encouraged. And a big ol’ jug of tasty draft beer is a far more rousing contribution to any social engagement than a standard sixer.

Fenster says that Bartell surveyed potential customers early in the year to find out what products they wanted at the SLU store. Beer-wise, Manny’s Pale Ale and Mac and Jack’s African Amber were by far the most popular requests. Neither is available by the bottle or can, only on draft at bars and restaurants—further evidence, Fenster says, that growlers are a good idea. (Georgetown Lucille IPA is the other permanent selection; three other taps remain in constant rotation.)

Amazon’s “Beer Fridays” were another clue: Come Friday afternoon, employees at the SLU offices are allowed to drink on the job. Now every week, throngs of growler-toting cubicle jockeys line up for fills at what Bartell is calling “SLUG”—South Lake Union Growlers. Branded T-shirts and pint glasses are already sold out.

The Greenwood store sees less action. On a recent Friday afternoon, City Arts staffers were the only customers at the shiny new filling station—“GROG,” as it might come to be known—in the back of the store. We rang a doorbell by the taps, which summoned assistant manager Christine Williams over the in-store PA. While we waited, a half-dozen smiling clerks asked if we needed help, but only Williams, who’d earned her food handler’s and alcohol service permits from the city, was authorized to pour beer. She unlocked the tap, inserted one end of a short hose and stuck the other into the bottom of our jug, then carefully filled it with Harmon Brewing Company’s Puget Sound Porter.

“I never thought I’d be doing this,” she said.

Buying draft beer at a drugstore? Neither did we.

Photo by Nate Watters