The commercialization of bulk beer is currently regaining strength, mainly at the craft or microbrewery level. Nowadays, consumers are looking for fresh and higher-quality beers that are coming straight from the brewery or pub, and the containers used for this purpose have a particular name, called “growler”.
A growler is a container generally made out of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel, usually 5 liters, or 1 gallon, which is used by breweries and bars to sell beer directly to their customers in order to facilitate its transport and to generate less waste.
Obviously, we can buy beer in bottles or cans, but the growler is 100% reusable which makes it very attractive as it costs less in the long run and also generates less waste.
A bit of History of the Growler
The method of selling beer in bulk dates back to the 19th century. At that time, beer drinkers would bring their own containers to bars or warehouses to be filled.
Back on the street and on their way home, these people transported the containers full of beer in a not very silent manner, as the sloshing of the beer inside the containers emitted a particular sound.
The sloshing caused the carbon dioxide to escape from the containers, emitting a type of sound similar to a growl which led to the name “growler” being given to these beer containers.
The growler represented an important marketing channel until the 19th century since then this practice fell into disuse due to the low cost of industrialized beers that flooded the market, but since the ’70s, with the birth of the craft beer movement, this practice has regained strength, and today represents an important income stream for microbreweries.
Types of growlers
Growlers come in different shapes and sizes, mainly 5 liters (169 oz), 4 liters (135.2 oz), 1.9 liters (64 oz), and 1 liter (33.8 oz).
In addition to this, they can also be made out of different materials, such as glass, ceramic, PET (Plastic), and stainless steel.
- Glass: These are the most popular types of growler since they are relatively light and have the advantage of being very easy to clean. They are reusable “for life” if they do not break and are relatively inexpensive compared to other materials. The disadvantage is that they are fragile if knocked or dropped on the floor.
- Stainless Steel: This is the best material because of its durability since it can be cleaned with any chemical agent. These growlers do not break if dropped or knocked around, and also because they do not introduce any by-products into the beer. They are probably the most expensive along with ceramic growlers, but their durability is almost unbeatable.
- Ceramic: Ceramic is a very environmentally friendly material, but just like glass Growlers, Ceramic Growlers are fragile. It is a noble material, beautiful and very good-looking that can be reused countless times which, of course, means that these are the most expensive growlers on the market.
- PET: These are plastic growlers that are used in a more “disposable” way, but can be reused a few times. They are the cheapest on the market, very light, do not break if hit but can crack when subjected to pressure, and are easy to clean but do not withstand high temperatures and some chemical agents.
Benefits of Growlers
Growlers are just another sales channel for breweries, as are bottles, cans, or kegs, but the whole point behind this method is that the beer is consumed as fresh as possible since it comes directly from the kegs at the brewery, at a controlled storage temperature, and without prior packaging.
In addition to this, growlers make it possible to transport a good quantity of beer in a practical way, since it’s much easier to carry one large bottle that has a handle rather than having to carry 12 cans or bottles around with you, plus it lets you buy high-quality beer from a brewery to share with your friends.
Not only that but the cost is usually lower compared to bottles because there is no packaging cost since they are reused.
They make transporting beer easier
The largest Growlers are 5 liters, or 169 oz, which is something that anyone can carry with them without it being too much of a burden, and like I just mentioned, it’s much more practical than having to carry around bottles or cans with you, not to mention a full keg.
They can be filled in a brewery
Growlers allow us to buy beer directly from the pub or brewery, which generally means that we are getting higher-quality beer than what we can get at the store.
Many breweries usually outsource the production of beer and only sell it, but even so, if we fill the growler at the brewery, we can be sure that the beer will come from a keg that was sitting at the required temperature.
They allow you to share your own beer
One of the advantages of growlers is that they allow you to share your own homebrew with your friends in a simpler and more practical way (as long as you store the beer in a keg and not bottles, of course).
If you have a get-together, it is much simpler to bring a growler or two filled with your own beer than the same amount in bottles.
How to fill a growler?
There are different ways to fill a growler (some better than others), so let’s go over them to give you a better idea of how it’s done so that when you see someone fill it the wrong way in the brewery, you can school them!
With a bottle filler (Bottom-up)
A bottle filler is a device that works as follows: the filler has a valve that opens up when it’s pushed against the bottom of the container and starts filling with beer from the bottom to the top, reducing the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the beer and without generating too much foam.
This method is not as effective as counterpressure filling (with CO2), but better than directly filling it from the tap if you want to avoid oxidation and unnecessary foam generation.
Directly from the tap
Growlers can be filled directly from a tap as we would do when pouring a pint, for example. The problem is that this method lets oxygen in which can deteriorate the beer, so it is advisable to consume it rather quickly if it was filled this way.
Additionally, since it creates a lot of foam, the beer will lose some of its carbonation as well.
Counter-pressure filling using Co2
This process works as follows: first, the growler is filled with CO2 which purges all of the oxygen inside the container, then it is pressurized with co2 bringing it to the same pressure as the keg which holds the beer, and finally, and simultaneously, this co2 pressure is released and the beer inlet is opened.
The beer enters the container by pressure difference, filling from bottom to top, and guaranteeing that there will be little to no oxygen inside the growler.
If done correctly, beer can last for weeks instead of just 24-48hs like it does when filling the growler regularly.
How to properly Care for a Growler (and the beer in it)
When you buy beer and store it in a growler, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, such as where to store it, the temperature at which to keep the beer, etc.
Keep it at the optimal temperature ranges
It is hugely important with unpasteurized craft beers to maintain a storage temperature between 4 and 8 degrees celsius since this guarantees that the beer will keep for as long as possible without degrading.
Do not overfill
It is important not to overfill the growler, or bottles for that matter, and to always leave about an inch of headroom since gas compresses under pressure, but liquid doesn’t.
If you have no headspace, then there’s nowhere for the pressure to go, and may break the container.
Additionally, overfilling it, especially when doing it using the counter-pressure method, means that the beer may end up coming into contact with oxygen anyway, and we really want to avoid that.
Keep it clean
It is important to keep the growler as clean as possible in order to keep the beer from spoiling too quickly, and this is your job, not that of the brewery.
The growlers should arrive clean and ready to be refilled!
Consume within 24 to 48 hours
As I mentioned, growlers are not usually airtight since the types of caps used allow carbon dioxide to slowly be released, so it is recommended that they are consumed within 24 to 48 hours, otherwise they will lose carbonation.
Additionally, unless the growler was counter-pressure filled, the beer will be in contact with oxygen which will degrade its quality fairly quickly, so 24 to 48hs is the timeframe that beer should be consumed in.
How to properly clean a Growler
Keeping the growler clean is very important to maintain the quality of the beer and avoid contamination. A bad cleaning can generate unwanted flavors and aromas that end up resulting in a bad experience for the consumer.
This is why I’d recommend following these steps to properly clean your Growlers:
Rinse the growler once the beer has been consumed
The maintenance of the growler is simple. Right after serving the last drop of beer you should pour hot water into it and shake it, then pour out that water, repeating this process three to four times.
Generally, that’s all you need to do. Then just let the growler dry completely and that’s it, it’s ready to be filled again.
However, what happens if you let it sit for too long and you need to get in there and actually clean it?
Use the right products
In general, and if you followed the first step, it is not necessary to use any special chemical to clean the growler, only hot water, except if we have forgotten to clean it and left it there for a couple of days.
In this case, you can fill the growler with hot water, pour some neutral dishwasher soap into it and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
Doing this will get rid of any leftover residue that might be stuck to the inside of the growler and it will also kill any type of fungi that may have appeared.
Use a bottle brush
If you forgot to clean the growler, it is possible that yeast and hop residues may have stuck to the bottom of the container. In this case, it is recommended to use a bottle brush to remove the sediment.
I generally pour a little hot water into the container as well as some neutral dishwasher soap, let it sit, and then use the bottle brush to scrub the insides for 20 seconds or so.
Allow to dry completely
It is very important to let the growler dry after washing, so that fungi and other microorganisms do not develop in the container.
This should always be done by placing the growler upside-down to let every single drop drain out.
If you don’t do this correctly, you will need to clean it again before filling it up.
Dishwashers are excellent for cleaning both bottles and growlers as they do not only clean but also sanitize, so the beer will last much longer in good condition.
Combine this with counter-pressure filling the growler and the beer should last you weeks in great condition.
What sizes of growler are there?
The growlers can vary a lot in capacity, from 5L/169 oz (the largest) to 1L/ 33.8 oz (the smallest).
These are the most common sizes, no matter what material they are made of:
- 1.9L: 64 oz
- 1L: 33.8 oz.
- 4L: 135, 25 oz.
- 5L: 169 oz.
How much do Growlers cost?
The prices I’ll include here are approximated since they change over time and also depend on the brand, material, etc., as well as the location (country) where you’re buying them.
- Growler 5L/169 oz stainless steel: $39.
- Growler 1.9L/64 oz stainless steel: $30.
- Growler 1.9L/ l 64 oz glass: $5.
- Growler 1L/33.8 oz Glass: $3.5
- Growler 1.9L/64 oz PET: $0.40.
- Growler 1L/33.8 oz PET: $0.40
Ceramic growlers tend to be the highest-priced containers, and PET growlers are the most economical ones.
Difference between Crowler and Growler
Crowlers are being widely used today, and the difference between a growler and a crowler mainly lies in the container and the way it is filled.
Crowlers are basically aluminum cans with a larger capacity, ranging from 250 to 700 ml (the smallest growler is 1L). The reason that crowlers have become so popular is that they are designed to be oxygen-free, which means that beer will last a lot longer than in a growler, generally speaking since, of course, counter-pressure filling a growler still yields good results.
The filling is usually done with a valve that fills from the bottom to the top and then the crowlers are sealed using a machine that ensures that no oxygen can get in, and CO2 can’t get out.
In short, growlers are larger containers (up to 5 liters) whereas crowlers are generally just large cans with a capacity of 750ml, and crowlers are filled using CO2 to purge the container of oxygen and then hermetically sealed, which is generally not the case with growlers, which makes beer last a lot longer in crowlers than growlers.
The growler represents a simpler way of transporting beer that allows us to try different types and varieties from all the producers and breweries around us, with the advantage that it doesn’t generate waste.
If they are well cared for, they can last forever, which makes them much more affordable in the long run as well.