(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)
Who doesn’t enjoy drinking their favorite beer in the comfort of their own home? I’m guessing many of you utilize and own growlers, but I thought I’d pass on some more information about the glorious vessel we call the growler.
The History of the Growler
There is much debate regarding the origin of the growler, but it appears that they were definitively in use by the late 1800s. In fact, the term growler, “first appeared in the July 1893 issue of Harper’s Magazine” (Newhouse). At this time, ‘growler’ referred to galvanized buckets specifically used to transport beer from the pub to home. Often, young boys would take the buckets to the local pubs to be filled, then take them to their father’s place of work for lunch. As the story goes, the fathers would be so hungry by the time the beer arrived that their stomachs were growling – hence the name growler. Another story asserts that the term comes from the sound of carbon dioxide escaping through the pail’s cover. Yet another story claims that the term growler comes from the growling done between the bartender and customer regarding the amount of beer poured into the bucket. Regardless of the etymology, I’m very grateful that growlers came into being.
Charlie Otto, owner of Otto Brothers Brewery (now Grand Teton Brewing) is responsible for what we know as the 64 oz glass growler. His brewery was Wyoming’s first draft-only microbrewery, and he was looking for a way for his customers to enjoy their beer at home. His father recalled the galvanized buckets he used to bring beer home in his youth, and they determined they needed a modern variation. After stumbling upon some glass half-gallon jugs, he had the brewery’s logo silk screened on them and the contemporary growler was born!
There are three primary types of growler you now see in circulation – glass, stainless steel, and ceramic. With each of these come some pros and cons.
The glass growler is by far the most common variety you will see – nearly every brewery in Michigan has them for sale. If given the option, purchase an amber growler over a clear one – this will help prevent your beer being exposed to light, which can “skunk” it. The pros of the glass growler are that they tend to be inexpensive and you can see through them – which helps during the filling process to ensure you are receiving the proper amount of beer. The primary con of the glass growler is that they are fragile – if you drop it it will probably break.
In contrast to the glass growler, the stainless steel growler is much sturdier. They are also insulated, which will help keep your beer colder for longer, as well as prevent it from freezing in low temperatures. Stainless steel growlers are great for all of the outdoor adventures here in northern Michigan where you wouldn’t want to bring glass – the beach, boating, the ski slope, ice fishing – you name it! The downside to stainless steel growlers are that they are heavier to transport and definitely more expensive.
The third type of growler, ceramic, is not one you see as often. They can be absolutely gorgeous unique pieces of art, and some breweries specialize in their custom one-of-a-kind ceramic growlers. While these are fun to own, they are usually the most expensive, the heaviest, and are vulnerable to breaking.
Keeping Your Growler Clean
Keeping your growler clean is of upmost importance to experiencing your beer at the highest level of quality. Jeff Flowers, writer for Kegerator.com states, “you’d be surprised how many people don’t clean their growler after using it…in extreme circumstances of uncleanliness, mold and other nasty stuff may start growing.” Immediately upon finishing your growler, give it a rinse with hot water – if you do this right away, it may be all you have to do to get it clean and ready to fill. If it sits around a while before being rinsed, you may need to use a cleanser – Flowers recommends that you do NOT use a fat or oil-based soap, as these are harder to rinse out and may leave residuals behind that will impact the taste of your next fill. In the Brewers Association’s Draught Beer Quality Manual, they emphasize the importance of letting your growler completely air dry, and storing it with the lid unsealed.
The Brewers Association warns that, “filled growlers can shatter or explode if allowed to warm or freeze, especially if they are overfilled.” We highly recommend that you don’t leave your growlers outside on our freezing cold northern Michigan nights, or in a hot car during a summer day at the beach. This is not only to maintain the beer quality, but also as a safety concern. You may notice that when getting a growler filled, servers do not fill them to the tippy top – this is another safety precaution we take to prevent shattering. Fortunately, glass growlers reach 64 oz right at the base of the glass growler neck, to ensure you are still getting a full pour. Last but not least, you should visually inspect glass or ceramic growlers for chips or cracks every time you bring it in. Brewery employees also do this, but the more eyes the better!
“Brewers Association Facts About Growlers.” Draught Beer Quality,
Brewers Association, 7 Mar. 2014, http://www.draughtquality.org/wp-
Flowers, Jeff. “Growlers 101: Why Every Beer Geek Should Own One.”
Kegerator.com, 30 May 2014, learn.kegerator.com/growlers/.
Newhouse, Ryan. “Everything You Need To Know About Growlers.” The
Beer Connoisseur, Nov. 2017, beerconnoisseur.com/articles/every