Most beer aficionados are familiar with growlers -- the refillable beer-to-go containers that started sprouting up last year at local bars and liquor stores.
But now Howard County wine lovers can take their favorite pinot noirs and chardonnays home with them from Columbia's AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar with growliers. Yes, that's growlers with an "i."
Owner Joe Barbera began selling growliers in 16-ounce and 33-ounce bottles in October. The growliers cost $19 to $26, depending on the type of wine, and serve either three or six glasses. The new law allowing growlier sales in Howard County went into effect July 1, 2013, after Barbera and the county delegation pushed for it. So far AIDA Bistro is the only county restaurant to offer growliers.
Barbera says he first got the idea for growliers three years ago when customers started asking if they could take home with them the wine they enjoy in the restaurant, which serves 30 wines on tap.
"The whole idea here is to try and enjoy more than one type of wine," says Barbera, whose 5-gallon kegs of wine are treated with nitrogen and carbon dioxide to keep them fresh. "People like to try things and don't like to commit to large quantities of food like they used to."
The restaurant's wine selection changes weekly. Typically winemakers release red wines in the spring, which is when Barbera expects to pick up new pinot noirs, cabernets and syrahs. He'll also offer a special promotion on chocolate and growliers for Valentine's Day and is looking into cross-promotions with local stores that sell cheese, olive oil and vinegar.
Barbera estimates that about 50 customers so far have purchased the refillable growliers, for which there's a one-time $6 fee. When customers want a refill, they exchange their old bottle for a fresh one at the restaurant.
AIDA Bistro, like other wine-centric restaurants, features many wines that aren't available in retail stores, which is part of the growlier's allure, according to Barbera.
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"Customers wanted to take home many wines we have that are not readily available," he says.