I'm just going to come out and admit it: I am a big fan of growlers.
For those in the dark, a growler is a refillable container, typically glass, that usually comes in either 32- or 64-ounce versions. Beer enthusiasts fill up their growlers with draft beer from a bar, beer shop, restaurant or brewpub so that they can enjoy the beer later on at home or somewhere else. A growler's portability makes it perfect for hiking, beach trips, park picnics, a barbecue, a cigar HERF, or really anywhere that friends are gathering.
What I enjoy most about a growler, though, is the communal spirit the vessel often encourages. Show up to a party with a few six-packs to share and you likely just store the bottles in a cooler of ice that people freely grab from and then go on their merry way. Show up with a growler of beer from the local pub, however, and suddenly you have a conversation starter as you pour and pass out cups of sweet brew.
In a way, this growler ceremony can be viewed as the modern equivalent (only much more hygienic) to the loving cup ritual that was popular in several European cultures during the Middle Ages. The loving cup ritual, which symbolized friendship and unity and was often practiced at wedding and banquet celebrations from Scotland to France, consisted of a container, filled with anything from mulled wine to spicy ale, being passed around a table for all to sup from.
While consumers enjoy buying growlers and breweries will gladly sell the format, brewers themselves are on the fence. The brewer's wariness stems from the fact that they've designed their beer to be served on draft or from a carefully filled bottle. In Garret Oliver's ultimate beer bible, The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press, 2011), brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery writes, "At worst, it will be the beer equivalent of a fine restaurant meal scraped into a bag, refrigerated for days, and then heated in a microwave: in short, the brewer's worst nightmare."
Oliver's opinion is certainly valid, but the popularity of growlers is undeniable. A lot of start-up breweries have begun to offer their own branded glass growlers to beer enthusiasts who tour their taprooms as a take-home souvenir. And, grocers like Whole Foods and Duane Reade are even getting into the growler game with some of their stores housing growler fill-up stations. All this has led to a small sect of beer geeks to even start collecting growlers.
While a glass growler from your favorite brewery is nice, better options that will keep your draft beer fresh and cold for longer do exist. One of the best ones I've used is Hydro Flask's 64 oz. Beer Growler, a vacuum-insulated container constructed from stainless steel. The stainless steel means it will survive pretty much anything you throw at it (I dropped it down a flight of stairs once and it didn't even dent) while the double-wall insulation keeps the beer cold for up to 24 hours. On top of that, Hydro Flask's Growler, which costs about $55, is made from 100 percent recyclable materials and is backed by a lifetime warranty.
Although Hydro Flask's Growler does keep the beer inside it fresh for a bit longer than its glass or ceramic counterparts, it's still a good rule of thumb to drink the brew within two to three days after filling up, lest the suds will lose carbonation and flavor.
Before you rush out to buy a growler and fill it with your favorite brew, it would be wise to check out your state's growler laws. Some states only allow growlers to be filled by the brewery while others insist a growler be clearly marked with information such as the brewery name and the alcohol by volume percentage. Fortunately, the Brewer's Association, the organization created and run by brewers that represents 2,300 breweries, offers an online tool that sifts through a compiled database of U.S. growler laws. (Florida passed a law last week that legalizes growlers there, thus becoming the last state to do so.)
Also, a growler must be cared for so as to reduce the possibility of tainting your beer. Cleanliness is paramount. Below are some tips that will ensure your growler, whether it's glass, ceramic or stainless steel, remains in good condition:
- Sadly not all brewpubs, bars or restaurants offer growler fill ups. Best to ask before you lug your jug inside.
- Clean the growler with a non-fat or oil-based detergent before first use and allow it to air dry.
- Growlers should be cleaned, sanitized, rinsed and allowed to air dry immediately after pouring the last cup.
- Avoid brushing the insides of the growler with a metal brush, as the scour marks can be perfect places for bacteria to live and flourish.
- Be sure that the establishment doesn't overfill the growler, but leaves about 5 percent of headspace.
- Keep your filled growler in a cool, dark area, out of the sun and in a place where it won't freeze.