Gimme a Growler!

By John Holl

Each week the thirsty customers line-up outside of the Georgetown Brewing Company in Seattle. Some have come prepared, growlers already in hand. Others will be picking up one for the first time, or worse, replacing one that met an untimely demise (hopefully after consuming its carbonated contents). The draft-only brewery sells about 2,000 growlers a week, an indication that people want their ales and lagers from the source and are willing to make the trip.

It seems that growlers are enjoying a bit of a renaissance these days. For those dark decades when the American beer landscape was dominated by a select few, there was little chance for customers to get their beer from anything besides a bottle, can or keg. The act of bringing a vessel from home to be filled by the brewery taps was hard to come by.

As the craft brewing movement grew through the 80s and 90s and continues towards unprecedented growth today, growlers are back in fashion. A container that started off as metal and then migrated to the familiar half-gallon glass jug that is ubiquitous today, can be found in other incarnations depending on where you look.

There are a number of different stories of how the growler got its verbal sounding name. Some stories say it was from the hungry sounds coming from stomachs of people eager to open the brew-filled container. Others say it was the sound the metal pails would make after being opened the first time. Whatever the case, today’s growlers sound like most other beer-toting vessels, making the “pssssstt” sound when opened.

They come in all different shapes and sizes (different tops as well from the traditional screw top to the rubber-stopped swing top), with glass remaining the most popular material. There are, however, alternatives.

growlerWhen they opened less than a year ago, Flat12 Bierwerks in Indianapolis decided to offer glass and plastic to-go options. They have 32 ounce amber plastic “bullet bottle” in addition to the standard 64 ounce glass growler.

The “bullet bottle” not only fits into coolers more easily, but also into bicycle water bottle cages, so cyclists can pick one up at the brewery after a ride and not worry about carrying it home.

“This allows [customers] to take and try new types of beer with a smaller investment, as well as carry great craft beer into various venues such as outdoor concerts, and the Indy 500 where glass is prohibited,” said Steve Hershberger of Flat12.

Advancements in Growler Filling

Victory Growler FillerThe traditional way to fill a growler is still directly from the taps; often with the assistance of an extender hose so the jug can fill from the bottom. But there are some breweries that are putting technology to work when it comes to preparing beer to-go.

At Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Company they use an Austria-made growler filler. Purchased in 2008, the mechanical wonder pours 20 different beers. After being inserted into the filler, the growler is placed on a pedestal; the machine purges the glass from carbon dioxide and then fills the growler with the beer of choice.

“It’s much more exciting than watching a bartender hook a hose up to a bar tap,” said Victory’s Whitney Thompson, Quality Services Executive Manager.

The brewery said it allows them to send draft beer home with customers while preserving quality. Additionally, beer loss has been reduced by at least 90 percent, they said, which saves considerable cost.

The Growler Movement

It’s not just breweries filling growlers; in recent years bars and restaurants with a bent towards good beer have added growler fills to their offerings. Even select locations of Whole Foods Markets offer beer to-go from a rotating selection of taps. This service allows customers to enjoy (and share) beer from breweries that are not within a reasonable travel distance. It also allows for customers to pick up fresh beer along with all the other necessary household items.

Along with offering customers a chance to try beers that are draft only, brewers say there are several other benefits to using growlers.

“My favorite benefit of selling growlers, is the environmentally friendly aspect,” says Lisa Uhrich of Georgetown Brewing Co. “It also encourages repeat business, which is nice for me and my employees because it gives us a chance to create relationships with our customers. The more often customers come back the more they feel like part of our beer community.”

Photos courtesy of  ldandersen on flickr, Flat12 Bierwerks and Victory Brewing Company.

John HollJohn Holl, a frequent contributor to CraftBeer.com, lives in New Jersey. His first book, Indiana Breweries will be published in April 2011. He occasionally blogs on his website, BeerBriefing.com He can be reached at JohnHoll@gmail.com or via twitter @John_Holl.