If you have ever visited a brewpub then odds are you have seen those big glass jugs lined up behind the bar. For a few dollars deposit plus the cost of the beer, you can take home this reusable beer transportation device, empty it and return for more. Pretty great, right?
Tradition tells us that the growler's history reaches back to pre-Prohibition times in the US. People would take buckets to the local bar where they would fill them with beer from the tap and take it home.
Even without the history, the growler would probably have risen out of today's brewpub scene. Many brewpubs do not bottle or can any of their beer so the growler is the only option for bringing their beer home. Those brewers that do bottle, don't bottle all of the different styles that they brew, especially the one-off beers. It is a great way for brew pubs to let their customers spread the word about their beer and customers love to take home a bit of the great new beer they just discovered.
Care and feeding of your growler
Since this is a reusable container, there is some concern about cleanliness. Despite its blue collar image, beer is really a very delicate product. Dumping half a gallon of their carefully brewed beer into a big bottle that the customer just brought from home makes some of them nervous. Consequently, many brewpubs will simply switch out your growler for a fresh one and clean yours later.
Even so, it would be nice to bring it in clean, right?
The first rule for growlers or anything else that is going to hold beer is no detergent. This might be counterintuitive. Most of us have a bottle of dish washing soap with detergent sitting beside our kitchen sink with which we clean any dirty dishes that come our way.
Well, detergent messes up beer, often ruining the balanced flavors and aromas of a well-brewed beer. If you are a homebrewer, you can just wash your growler in the same stuff that you use to clean your brewing equipment. If not, though, what to do? Bleach is an option but it creates the same issues as detergent. The key is to completely rinse the growler. Make sure that all traces of whatever cleaning agent you used is completely gone. Using rinse water that is hotter than the water you washed with is a good way to make sure you do this.
Even after you do all this, if you go to the brewpub and the bartender starts to fill your growler, ask her to first give it a rinse. A good bar, and most brewpubs have one, should be prepared to clean their beer glasses and, therefore, your growler. Most of the time, though, you should not have to ask. Brewpubs want the beer that they sell to taste good, even after you get it home, so they will make sure that it is going home in a clean growler.
Many growlers are made of clear glass. This is can be really bad for beer. Just a few moments in direct sunlight and your beer will be light-struck or skunked. Luckily, the solution is simple, cover the beer.
If you are bringing the growler in for a refill, just put it in a paper or cloth bag and that should solve the problem. (A cloth bag would give you the added benefit of making the growler less likely to break if you happen to accidentally knock it against something.) If this is the first time you are buying a growler, just ask the staff for something to cover it with. They should be able to come up with something. You can also ask if they have a brown growler. Brown glass does not completely protect your beer from the sun but it helps a lot.
Once you get your full growler home, store it in a dry, cool place. The refrigerator is the best option but if that is not possible, you can put your beer in a dark pantry or closet. Just make sure it is not near a register if your furnace is on. A well-sealed growler can last a surprisingly long time.
I have heard reports of growlers keeping beer in good shape for months. Beer never lasts that long in my house so I have yet to test that out for myself.
After you open the growler and pour your first beer, the clock has started ticking. The beer will probably go flat within two or three days. There is nothing wrong with flat beer, it just is not fizzy anymore. You can keep drinking it at that point if you want to or save it for cooking. Marinating a steak in flat beer works just as well as in fizzy beer. One thing to keep in mind, cold liquid holds carbonation better than warm, so keep your growler in the refrigerator after you open it for the first time for best results.