Growlers are popular for transporting beer, particularly if you want to enjoy a draft beer in the comfort of your home.Yet, as popular as they are, many people haven’t heard of a growler and certainly haven’t used one. So, what is a growler and when might you use one?
To put it simply, growlers are airtight vessels used to hold your beer. Many are glass bottles with resealable tops, but there are also other styles, including stainless steel growlers and ceramic growlers. There are even can-like variations known as crowlers that have some of the same features.
However, that’s only part of the story. We also need to talk about the different types of growlers, when they’re useful, and how you use them well.
P.S. If you’re looking at containers for beer, then beer steins are an interesting angle to consider as well.
What Is A Growler?
So, we know that growlers are airtight jugs used to transport beer. What else is there to know?
Well… there’s the name. This apparently comes from the strange noise that used to be made when CO₂ came out of the lid of buckets used to transport beers.
At least, that’s one theory. There are a few other explanations for the name and no one really knows where it came from.
Growlers are generally filled at breweries, taprooms, and supply stores, using draft beer taps and a specially designed nozzle. Some places will teach you how to fill your growler and you’ll need some practice to master the process..
Growlers are mostly 64 ounces in size, giving you four pints of beer. However, there are also half growlers, which contain 32 ounces. These are sometimes called howlers (perhaps based on the term ‘half growler’).
Howlers are perfect if you want to try multiple types of beer and don’t want to lug two or more growlers. You’ll sometimes see these versions called squealers instead. In fact, you’ll see plenty of different names for growlers and half growlers, including bomber, vertical, pony, grunt, growlette, and even grumbler.
Glass growlers are the most popular style and often the cheapest. These are the ones that breweries and beer festivals offer. They might be your only option if you’re getting a growler locally.
You’ll need to be careful with clear glass growlers here, as these let in plenty of light. The darker versions are better, but you still shouldn’t leave them sitting in the sun. Don’t forget we’re talking about glass, which is breakable.
Ceramic growlers are mostly decorative and often look beautiful. However, they can be useful too, as they completely block the light. They’re surprisingly sturdy, but will may still break if you drop them.
Ceramic growlers are also heavy. This makes them more difficult to carry around with you.
While stainless steel growlers often don’t look as good as the glass and ceramic versions, they’re the single best option. They’re incredibly resilient and will survive many more knocks than a glass or ceramic growler.
Stainless steel ones also completely block out the light, so they’re the best for protecting your beer.
Plastic growlers are lighter and cheaper than other types of growlers, but that’s really all they have going for them. These growlers don’t keep your beer cold and can mess with the flavor of your beer.
It’s best to skip the plastic version entirely and go with one of the others.
Benefits Of A Beer Growler
Some beers are only sold as draft, rather than in cans or bottles. You’ll often see this from small breweries and with limited releases, as bottling beer costs a decent amount.
Normally you’d need to enjoy the draft beer on the premises. But, with a growler, you might be able to take the beer home or to an event instead. You’ll need to check with each individual store though, as there are varying policies for when you can fill up your growler.
Buying beer in cans or bottles means you then have cans and bottles that need attending to. These take energy to produce and energy to recycle. Why not do the environment a favor and simply stick with growlers instead?
Beers in cans and bottles have generally been sitting around for a while, sometimes months or more. Draft beer you’ve just put in your growler tends to be much fresher, so it’s going to taste much better.
Sure, cans and bottles of beer are portable too. But, it’s nice to have plenty of beer in a single bottle, rather than dealing with multiple colors.
Growlers have an unexpected benefit when the keg you’re using is running low. You can simply pour the remaining beer into a growler, then tap a new keg. This ensures there is no break in the flow of beer.
Some homebrewers bottle their brews, while others prefer to keg their beer instead. If you take the kegging approach, then a growler is the perfect to share the joy.
How Long Does Beer Last In A Growler?
How long your beer lasts is influenced by multiple factors. First, hop heavy beers should be consumed as soon as possible, as their hop characteristics quickly decrease over time. Barrel-aged beers and sours tend to last longer.
The growler matters too. Pressurized growlers will keep your beer fresh for longer. Those with a screw top or a flip top aren’t nearly as good.
Finally, once your growler has been opened, you’ve introduced oxygen. Your beer starts to lose its flavor faster from this point.
Overall, you’re looking at anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks. Of course, your beer will always be better soon after it has been placed in the growler.
While glass growlers are popular, they’re not ideal. The glass allows light to hit the beer, which can then ruin the flavor.
If glass growlers are your only option, look for ones that are dark amber rather than clear. This way less UV radiation hits the beer and it should retain its flavor for longer.
You’ll also need to keep your beer out of the light as much as possible to minimize the UV exposure.
Keeping your beer on ice or in the fridge will help it to last longer. It will taste much better as well.
Ideally, you could take a growler from one taproom or brewery, clean it out, and use it elsewhere later. This way, you’d just need a couple of growlers for all your beer needs.
However, some places have rules about the containers you can fill. This is often related to state-specific laws. You might only be able to use growlers from their company or only use glass growlers rather than stainless steel ones.
Checking the rules at your local stores means you know what to expect. This way you don’t pay a deposit or buy your own growler, just to find you can’t use it as you hope to.
Breweries often sell branded growlers. These can be frustrating, as some places will refuse to fill growlers from competitors. Unbranded growlers give you much more flexibility.
You’ll still need to check the rules, though. An unbranded growler won’t help at all if the company only fills ones with their logo stamped on it.
Growlers are used using a special nozzle that helps to get the beer in with minimal oxygen exposure. Depending on the location, you might be able to do this with any beer on tap or just with a limited selection.
Generally, you’re filling the beer from the bottom up using a nozzle. Kegworks has an excellent post that steps you through the process of filling a growler without excess head or oxygen exposure.
How To Pour From A Growler
To pour beer from a growler, it’s best to go slow and try to get the beer to run down the side of the glass. Don’t expect to get it on your first try. It takes most people a decent amount of practice.
Cleaning your growler is as simple as rinsing it out with hot water once it is empty. You’ll often need to fill it with hot water, swish it around, empty it, and start again around five or six times. Keep going until you can’t smell the beer.
But, you need to do this immediately. The beer becomes much harder to remove once it has been sitting for a while.
If you do leave the beer, you might need to add a little dish soap and hot water, then let the mix sit for 10 or 15 minutes (a cleaning tablet and water works well here too). You’ll need to rinse multiple times with hot water to ensure no soap residue remains.
Try not to use the soap approach if you can help it. The soap can easily leave residue that changes the flavor of your beer.
Growlers are pretty difficult to dry. Some accessories are designed to help with this, such as a Growler Collar.
Now, let’s talk about crowlers. Their name is a blend of the words canned and growler, which sums up the idea nicely. As well as being a can, crowlers are also half the size of a typical growler (32 ounces rather than 64 ounces).
Basically, growlers are large beer cans that can be filled just like a growler, then sealed using a canning station. The cans have some of the benefits of a growler, as they’re excellent for draft beer, are easy to transport, and maintain the quality of your beer.
Crowlers can even be more practical than growlers in many situations. They’re particularly useful for people who ship homebrew beer in the mail. Plus, crowlers often have better seals and no UV light gets in. Those features are both fantastic for your beer quality.
There are a couple of issues though. First, canning stations aren’t that common, so crowlers won’t always be an option. Crowlers aren’t reusable either. You’ll need to recycle the can after you’ve used it, just like you normally would for canned beer.
Growlers, howlers, and crowlers are all fantastic. They allow you to enjoy draft beer on the go, while also being good for the environment and versatile.
Which you use might vary depending on the situation. For example, growlers are great when you need a decent amount of beer or when you’re not traveling far. Crowlers are particularly good for shipping beer or for taking it on trips. They’re also perfect for events that allow you to bring alcohol, but not glass.