08/27/2015 14:38 EDT | Updated 08/27/2016 01:12 EDT

LCBO invites Ontario craft brewers to join beer growler program

The LCBO is cracking open a new program that will allow Ontario craft brewers to fill growlers with their own specialty beer. 

The provincial liquor agency sent out an email to craft brewers inviting them to take part in the initiative that offers large quantities of craft beer in growlers, which are smaller-sized kegs. Only craft beers not previously sold in stores will be available in the initiative.

"A selection of beers, not available for sale in packaged format, will be offered on a rotational basis," the LCBO said in the email. "Products can be seasonal, limited edition, or specially brewed for the program."

There will be a generic keg used for all craft brewers, providing the LCBO with an opportunity to produce an iconic symbol to represent the new initiative. Growlers generally hold 1.89 litres of beer, but it's unclear what exact size the LCBO will embrace.

"It's a container that's meant to allow you to bring craft beer but it's best enjoyed as fresh as possible," said Ben Johnson, a passionate beer drinker and writer who runs Ben's Beer Blog. 

"It's a sharing size," he added. "Typically, you want to open it within 72 hours of buying and once you open it, you want to finish it."

The crown corporation said they will dispense beer directly from the keg to the growler, but it's unclear whether they'll go the extra mile to use growler fillers that minimize the beer's exposure to oxygen.

The other option is a simple draught tap, which you'd typically see at your local bar, and tend not to stay fresh for as long. The beer is expected to be fresher and thus better tasting with proper fillers, but those are more costly. 

'Extremely slow progress'

While Johnson said he's "not exactly a super fan of growlers" due to these freshness concerns, he still sees the provincial move as a step forward. 

The program has been successful in other jurisdictions. In New Brunswick, 1.2 million litres of craft beer was sold in less than a year since unveiling their program. 

"We are well behind the times when it comes to craft beer," Johnson said, noting the province's "extremely slow progress" on making local beer available to Ontarians. 

Still, growlers provide a way for the LCBO and craft brewers to earn "pretty good profits from that system," according to Johnson. 

The planed rollout is expected to start exclusively at the LCBO Summerhill location in Toronto. Despite the distance, Johnson said brewers as far as the Niagara Region who have expressed interest in making the trek to Toronto to have their beer made available in growlers. Participating brewers must provide their own kegs filled with beer.

"I've talked to a few [brewers] that would be happy to truck their beer to be part of the program."

Brewers interested in taking part in the program have until Friday to submit their applications to join the initiative.