When it comes to beer vessels, many argue that the size is of no consequence. And that would be fine if the substance — that is the beer itself — in each bottle and can was exactly the same.
Thankfully for us beer drinkers, not all beer is created equal, and exterior packaging conveniently reflects the inner differences. Labels aside, the industry standard for beer containment are the 12-ounce brown bottle and aluminum can. Yet some, let us call them more determined beer drinkers, prefer 40-ounce bottles as a vehicle for their favorite libation.
Beer enthusiasts and home brewers tend to like 22-ounce, microbrewery standard-issue bottles. Beer geeks take it to the next level with European 750 milliliter, “Belgian-style” bottles. But preferences in bottle dimensions aside, all beer drinkers tend to agree that draft beer is supreme. With that in mind, I humbly present for your consideration, the growler.
Reminiscent of a moonshine jug, a growler is usually a glass, half-gallon, re-sealable container for fresh-off-the-tap beer. Originally used in the 1800s and 1900s, when beer was not for sale on Sundays, legend has it that growlers got their name from the sound escaping carbonation made as workers took beer from the bars home in galvanized pails. Another theory suggests that the name refers to the sound made by thirsty 1950s and ‘60s workmen when the then waxed cardboard vessels ruptured on the way home.
In any case, growlers were revived in the ‘80s in a new incarnation: out with the waxed cardboard and in with the glass. Growlers now range from simple, brown glass jugs, to ceramic- and gasket-topped 2-liter beer conveyances, all the way to hand-blown glass or custom turned ceramic works of art — art that can be filled with beer. Available at many microbreweries and select beer stores, a growler will run you $2 to $4 for a one-time only deposit, then a filling for $4 to $15, depending on the brewery. Subsequent refills are discounted, because that’s how a growler works.
So, you might ask, why should anyone care about growlers when there are racks of 30 cans for sale at Burby and Bates? I’ll tell you why it matters: First, a growler allows you to capture that fresh, microbrewed, off-the-tap taste all 21-year-olds know and love, and bring that flavor home and save it for up to two weeks, maybe longer.
Second, even if you never refill it, you will have a statement piece to put atop your fridge or coffee table, or it can serve as a vessel to fill with loose change — change which you can then use to refill it with beer.
Third, growlers are the ultimate in recycling — even glass bottles and aluminum cans have to be melted down to be reused. All you need to do with a growler is wash it well with soap and water, and if you use all natural soap then congratulations for going the extra mile.
Fourth, if you show up at a soiree with a growler, you’re guaranteed to turn a few heads, and better yet you’ll have 64 ounces to share if you choose.
Last, and far from least, the proceeds from a growler purchase go straight to the brewery where you got it, thereby stimulating the local economy in these difficult times.
To summarize, growlers are delicious, satisfying, cool, green and good for the economy.
Want to know where to get them? Black Bear Brewing has a new taproom where growlers are $8 — plus a $2 deposit without a growler return. Geaghan’s Pub also has growlers available, and Burby and Bates stocks growlers, too — plus they have a beer cave.
So the next time you go to fill your dear old stein, consider using a growler instead of a can, because size does matter.