I never planned to be a growler collector, but I have somehow acquired 19 of them. Sure, a few were gifts and I won a few at various brewer’s night raffles, but I felt somewhat forced to buy the others. During my travels, sometimes I just stumble upon a new brewery with beers I just have to try. Not wanting to drink and drive, filling a growler is sometimes my only option.
I find myself in this situation often, as many new breweries do not bottle or can their beer, so the growler is often the only to-go option. That reason alone has probably contributed to the rapid growth of growlers across America, and Washington state is no exception.
Elizabeth Station is arguably the best growler-filling store in Bellingham, but other stores have popped up in the area as well. Many gas stations are beginning to fill growlers, some Seattle-area Bartell Drugs stores are filling growlers, and the new Safeway in Bellingham even has 12 taps for growlers.
Lake Stevens, a small town just east of Everett, now has Getchell Growler Beer (Hwy 92 and 84th St. NE), which features a whopping 50 beers on tap that are dedicated to growlers only (no drinking on the premises). It may seem off the beaten path, but if you ever travel the Mountain Loop Highway for hiking, fishing, kayaking, etc., it makes for an extremely convenient stop on your way home.
People like growler beer for a variety of reasons. Some like having fresh draft beer at home, as well as having the ability to pour as little or as much as they like. Some feel growlers are more environmentally friendly because they require no packaging and they’re reusable. Others like the savings growlers offer compared to drinking at the bar (although, ounce for ounce, growler beer is not always cheaper than bottled/canned versions of the same beer). And others just like to take beer home that isn’t currently available in bottles or cans.
All of that said, growlers do come with a few drawbacks. Unlike bottled or canned beer, growler beer must be kept cold, plus it has a limited shelf life. If left unopened, growler beer can stay fresh for days, possibly even weeks (especially if it was purged with carbon dioxide like those in Kulshan’s growler exchange program). But once it’s opened, it should be consumed within two or three days. Any longer and it will become flatter and less fresh tasting.
Counter-pressure growler fillers at Four Winds Brewing in Delta, British Columbia:
ORIGIN OF THE NAME
Before bottled beer was widely available, if you wanted to drink beer outside of a saloon (i.e., at home), you would have to have a bartender fill a metal pail with beer, which you would then carry to work or your home. Supposedly, these buckets would hold just under a half gallon, probably less when poured with a generous head of foam.
No one seems to know the true origin of the term “growler,” but there are at least a few possibilities. Some say the name comes from the growling of stomachs of workers, who would yearn for a beer during their lunch break. Others say it was the growling noise that the bucket made as it slid across the bar counter and/or the sloshing noise the beer made as it was carried and/or the noise it made when the lid was opened. And some say the term growler came from the grumbling (i.e., growling) between customers and publicans over the fill size and/or the price of the beer.
The modern-day growler can be traced back to the Otto Brothers’ Brewing Co., now Teton Brewing Co., in Wyoming. Read more on this from Craftbeer.com by clicking here.
To learn more about the history of the beer growler, click here.
The standard growler is a half gallon (or 64 ounces), but there are also 32-ounce growlers.
Another common growler is the 2-liter, 68-ounce German swing-top.
Nowadays, growlers come in all sorts of shapes and designs, and some have become rather stylish.
Many related products have surfaced as well, including all sorts of growler carriers, a growler tap with a CO2 system, a growler carrier for your car, growler caddies for your bicycle like this one and this one (plus many other beer-related bike accessories).
TAKE CARE OF YOUR GROWLERS
Re-cap the growler after each pour to retain the carbonation. As soon as you finish a growler, rinse it out well with hot water and let it dry upside down (one product to help with drying). Once it’s completely dry, do not store it closed tight. Instead, cover the opening loosely (a piece of aluminum foil works well, or a cap barely screwed on), which keeps dust out while still allowing the bottle to adjust to pressure and humidity changes (condensation is bad). Another tip: If you chill your growler just before filling, it will foam less when it’s filled.
DRIVING WITH YOUR GROWLER
According to Washington law, growlers “must be kept in the trunk of the vehicle or in some other area of the vehicle not normally occupied by the driver or passengers if the vehicle does not have a trunk.” I have never heard of anyone getting a ticket for transporting a growler in a passenger area, but if you choose to transport your growler in the trunk, be sure to put it in a cooler – especially on warm days.
To stem my out-of-control collection of growlers, I have learned to keep one or two clean ones in my car for the times I discover that new brewery and decide to buy some beer for home.
INTRODUCING, THE CROWLER
In 2013, Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado and Ball Corporation teamed up to create the Crowler, which is a 32-ounce, single-use can that can be filled and sealed right after filling (Crowler is trademarked, and bars and breweries must purchase the can-sealing machine). This new technology has already made its way into Washington, and it is used by at least two Seattle breweries: Tin Dog Brewing and Lowercase Brewing.