“We create handmade ceramic growlers as beautiful as the beer you fill them with.” – Norfolk Growler Company

What started out as a simple idea has finally come to fruition. Rick Nickel, an Associate Professor at Old Dominion University, who teaches ceramics and art, wanted to make handmade beer growlers. Ceramic beer growlers had become popular on the west coast, but the east coast had little representation.  At the same time, craft breweries had started popping up all over Virginia. With the help of Brendan Tompkins, B.C. Wilson and Chris Nickel, Norfolk Growler Company was born in 2015. The company is based on the model of fellow growler designer, Portland Growler Co. where what you drink from is just as important as what you are drinking.

The intention of Norfolk Growler is to create handmade ceramic growlers and other wares that represent the style and history of Norfolk. The group sought influences for the company logo from the naval culture here in Hampton Roads, World War II, the battleship USS Wisconsin BB-64 (a growler holds 64 oz. coincidentally), and the old Sailor Jerry tattoo. Future designs will include creations from local tattoo artists and illustrators to further represent the areas rich culture.

Other influences for the actual design of the growlers came from the 1800s-styled whiskey jugs, where the designs featured scary faces to keep kids away from the adult libations. With a scooped neck, old-styled rounded handle, and bellarmine jar shape, Rick Nickel has designed a true piece of artwork that would be an addition for any craft beer enthusiast.

Rick Nickel handcrafting a growler

A growler must be both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Rick and his crew had to come up with a design that looked good while also holding 64 ounces of liquid and allowing a tight fit of the flip top caps. That meant considering the shrinkage rate of clay while re-educating themselves on the mathematical formula for volume (see kids, math is important!). Plaster molds were created for faster production, which required a lot of trial and error. Drying time and time in the kiln also had to be figured into the equation. The last 6 months have been full of experimentation, trial, error, and success.

Growler Molds

Growler Molds

To give you an idea of the work involved here is a summary of the process of making a growler. After the growler prototype has been created, a mold is made of the prototype. Once the mold has dried, clay slip is poured in and allowed to set.  Once it is dry enough, the growler is removed from the mold and left to dry further. Then the growler neck and foot are trimmed.  The growler is set to dry completely, gently scrubbed to remove imperfections and then put in a bisque firing.  After it has cooled, it can be glazed – a multi-step process. Then it goes back in for another firing.  If the growler will include a ceramic decal, the decal must be attached and the growler will be fired for a third time. All of this so you can have something cool to put your beer in!

So that the participating starving artists weren’t just paid in beer, the folks at Norfolk Growler Co. made it a motivating factor that is ingrained in the group’s charter to make sure the artists get paid for their part.

Upcoming projects include a “Paint Your Own Growler”, or as one member of the group refers to as “Color Me Drunk”, where participants can design their own jugs and showcase their own personality. Other local community-based events that bring together the growing art scene in Norfolk are in the works.

Norfolk Growler Company will be debuting their first edition of growlers, t-shirts, and bumper stickers at the Crafted Indie Arts & Craft Market on October 10th at the O’Connor Brewing Company. Growlers can also be ordered online and retail for $63.60.