(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
Yesterday I hosted a Michigan IPA Tasting Event at our home. Six of us gathered around the table and shared beer, stories, and laughter. I had a lot of fun hosting, so if you’ve ever considered it, I say – do it! Here is a little advice to get you started:
Pick a Theme
Do you want to sample beers from one brewery? Do you want to sample the same style of beers from a variety of breweries? Do you want to share with people your favorite beer of each style? Once you decide the theme of your tasting, it will help determine what comes next.
Picking my theme was easy, because I had beer that I needed help getting rid of. Generally IPAs are meant to be enjoyed fresh, and my cellar was piling up with an abundance of Michigan IPAs that needed to be drank fast!
Pick Your Guests
First, you’ll need to determine how many guests you’d like to invite. Do you plan on having an intimate around-the-table tasting, or a larger mix n’ mingle party? It’s also a good idea to take into consideration the types of guests you want to have. If you’re planning on a more formal tasting event that thoroughly dissects the appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, etc. – make sure you are inviting experienced and knowledgeable beer drinkers. If your event is going to be more casual and will include people with a variety of beer experience, make sure you facilitate it accordingly. You don’t want to disappoint your fellow beer junkies, and you definitely don’t want to scare off or intimidate new craft beer drinkers.
For yesterday’s event I invited friends that appreciate craft beer, but all have different levels of knowledge on the beer spectrum. In this instance, the environment was a positive one which facilitated an open discussion of beer knowledge.
Pick Your Beer
Once you know your theme and how many guests you plan on having, it is time to pick your beer! It’s fun to serve rare or unique beer your guests have never had before, but it might also be good to serve familiar beer to act as the tasting ‘control group’ to the other beers. How many different beers do you plan on having? We had 12 different IPAs, divided into two rounds – but I think if I were having a more formal tasting event, I would limit myself to 6 in order to prevent palate fatigue and mental exhaustion. Now is also the time to determine how much of each beer you will need. Are you having enough people to warrant a pony keg, or do you just need a couple bottles from your local bottle shop? Remember, a tasting event is different from a drinking event – each guest only needs a couple of ounces of each beer. Also keep in mind that a couple of ounces can add up to a lot of ounces, depending on how many different beers you are serving.
- Beer. Purchase your beer ahead of time, and make sure you store it in a cool, dry place. On the day of your event, make sure the beer is served at proper tasting temperature for the style. Beer that is too cold is hard for our taste buds to taste.
- Tasting Cups. Remember, these only need to be a few ounces. I used clear plastic cups with a wide mouth, so guests could easily evaluate color and catch the aroma.
- Tasting Mats. I made tasting mats for each round of tasting, with ordered, labeled spots for each beer. I also included other information about the beer, like the brewery name, ABV, and IBUs.
- Beer Score Cards. While my event did not include formal judging, I wanted to provide my guests with a place to take notes about each beer if they were so inclined. I also printed off a page with some tasting “suggestions” and some simple beer vocabulary.
- Snacks & Water. I intentionally picked snacks that act as palate neutralizers or that traditionally pair with beer. We had pretzels, popcorn, bread, and cheese. Make sure you also provide your guests with plenty of water. The idea behind the snacks and water are to help clear the taste buds between beer samples, and also to help prevent any major drunkenness caused by an empty stomach. Aside from the snacks, our group was small enough that we were also able to order carry-out once the event was underway.
On the day of your event, set up as much in advance as possible. I set out each spot at the table with the tasting mats, beer score cards, pens, napkins, and suggestion sheets well before everyone arrived. I also threw some flowers in an old growler, which made a beautiful centerpiece. I put snacks out and poured waters 15 minutes prior to everyone’s arrival, and started playing music 5 minutes before showtime. In case of late arrivals, I advise you do not start pouring beers until everyone is there and ready to start. Talk to everyone, and make sure they are comfortable and enjoying themselves. Keep an eye out for overconsumption, and be aware that as the host you may have to provide a way home or a place to crash for the night if someone goes over the top. (Fortunately, I did not encounter anything remotely close to this last night.) Consider having a party favor you can send home with people at the end of the night – mine was simple, I sent my guests home with a variety 6-pack of the beers they ranked the highest.
Overall, my tasting party was a success and I am really glad that I did it. My guests were great, and brought some of their own delicious beverages to share – including a homebrewed Classic American Pilsner and some homemade wine. Thanks to everyone that came out! I look forwarding to hosting my next one.
Have you ever hosted a beer tasting event? What did you find that worked and didn’t work for you? If you were to host a beer tasting event, what would your theme be?