by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence
Have you ever gone to a local independent brewery, hoisted a few pints to ensure you got the full spectrum of house offerings, and settled on a brew that ‘blew your mind’? Man, I’d love to have this at home, you say to yourself as you lick the foam from your upper lip. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it in the local Piggly Wiggly. Crap. Well, engineers have been puzzled by this conundrum for centuries and have finally presented us neck oil lovers with a solution. The Growler. This instrument of imbibing comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, with the most popular size being the 64 U.S. fl. oz (1,892.7 ml; 66.6 imp fl. oz) growler. These vessels can present as a glass, ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel bottle (or jug) used to transport draft beer in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and other countries. While 64 U.S. fl. oz (1,892.7 ml; 66.6 imp fl. oz) is the most popular growler size, growlers are commonly found in 32 U.S. fl. oz (1 US Quart, sometimes known as a "howler", which may be short for "half growler"), 128 U.S. fl. oz (1 US Gallon), 1-liter (33.8 U.S. fl. oz; 35.2 imp fl. oz), and 2-liter sizes as well.
You’re probably asking yourself, ‘but El Martin, how did this fanciful concept come about?’. Glad you asked, my apprentice of alcohol. In compiling my vast amounts of research on the subject, I solicited some help. glass-jug.com obliged and, according to them, ‘beginning as early as the late 1800s, tin pails, pitchers, glass jars or jugs, or other vessels were used to carry beer home from the local pub. The most common was a 2-quart galvanized or enameled pail. These “growlers" supposedly got their name because as the beer sloshed around, it caused the carbon dioxide to escape and created a growling noise. However, some sources suggest it was the constant conflict between the two parties- the bartender who’s filling a two-quart pail with a pint of beer (party foul!)- and the customer looking for a full pail-which caused the “growling”.
Prior to World War II, children would bring covered buckets of draft beer from the local pub or brewery to workers at lunch time or to their parents at dinner time. This became known as "rushing the growler." Adults also were "Bucket Boys" or "Kesseljunges," a German term used in Milwaukee. The "Bucket Trade" was often attacked during the years leading up to Prohibition by the anti-alcohol "Temperance" movement that resulted in the 18th Amendment (the complete prohibition of alcohol). Laws were passed in many areas to outlaw the growler entirely.
By the 1950s, the tin pail had been phased out and waxed cardboard containers with lids were being used. These looked like a cross between a milk jug and a takeout Chinese soup container. By the 1960s, however, most bars had switched to plastic and were allowed to sell pre-packaged beer after hours, so the concept of the growler slowly disappeared.
The lack of growlers continued until 1989, when Charlie Otto, owner of Wyoming's first draft-only microbrewery, Otto Brothers Brewery, wanted to offer draft beer to go, but was not able to bottle the beer. Luckily for Charlie, his father still remembered the use of growlers and suggested that they give that a try. However, the packaging needed to be updated, so Charlie began silk-screening his logo on half-gallon glass jugs, and thus, the growler as we know it today was born”.
In addition to the many sizes of glass jugs currently available, variations on the concept of transporting tongue water have been developed as the appeal in craft beer continues to skyrocket. Wiki explains, “Crowlers ("Canned Growler") are a more modern and similar concept: a fillable and machine-sealable beer can. The selected beer is poured into the can body and then a pop-top is sealed over it at a canning station.
It isn't reusable like a growler bottle, but is easier to transport. The major limitation is that they can only be about a quart (32 oz. [946-ml] or 40 imp oz [1136-ml]) or liter (33.8 oz or 35.2 imp oz) in size”. packleaderusa.com offers this insight on the benefits of crowlers over their sister presentations.
Air Tight Seal - The air tight seal formed by the canning machine means that carbonation is not allowed to seep out of the can as it sits in your fridge or as you travel. While growlers come with a variety of different flip top and screw on caps, none of them seal perfectly, so you can always count on losing some carbonation as time. The crowler solves this problem for you.
Keeping Light Out - It quickly became apparent with glass growlers that too much sunlight was having a negative effect on the flavor of craft beers once they left the brewery. As a result, some companies started using dark glass to fight these effects, with limited effectiveness. The crowler is made of solid aluminum that reflects UV rays and heat, so you know that your beer is safe and sound inside.
Keeping Things Fresh - The ultimate result is that your craft beer stays fresher longer. You no longer have to worry about drinking all the beer within a day or two to keep it from going flat. Now you can save it until you have reason to crack it open and celebrate!
Convenience - Finally, there is a certain amount of convenience about the crowler that you simply can't get with a growler. It allows you to bring your beer home from the local brewery and drink it on your own time. It can withstand the pressures of traveling with ease, and you don't have to worry about washing it. Yet, you still get to watch the crowler get filled right behind the bar, so it's not the same as buying something off the shelf that's been sitting for a week or two in a warehouse.
What good is this fantastic concept if you can’t enjoy great, fresh beer ‘en su casa?’ If the growler is more to your taste (because it holds a lot more, duh), here are some housekeeping tips to help you accomplish that.
Store it cold until you have time to clean it. The best thing to do is to clean a growler as soon as you finish drinking it, but we know that's not always possible. So, to limit bacteria's ability to take hold, keep the growler in a cooler or in the fridge until you have a few minutes to wash it out.
Triple rinse with hot water. Make sure your tap water is nice and hot, then fill, swirl and rinse your growler about 3 times. This should knock out anything that has started to develop in your growler.
Air dry upside down. Allow your growler to sit upside down and air dry completely. A damp growler can harbor bacteria, whereas a dry growler will not.
Leave the cap off. Don't cap your growler once it has been cleaned. Capping the growler will result in stagnant air, which could promote bacteria growth. Allowing the air to circulate will reduce this risk.
So, Growler, Howler or Crowler? Does it matter with all the palette pleasing punch you are about to enjoy? Why not one of each? Let me know how it was!