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Growlers roaring back onto the craft brew scene

GROWLER: definition of growler 1: one that growls 2: a container (as a can or pitcher) for beer bought by the measure 3: a small iceberg

Posted: January 20, 2013 - 12:01am
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My beautiful picture  Rachael Juzeler
Rachael Juzeler
My beautiful picture

Growler: a container (as a can or pitcher) for beer bought by the measure. Growler has become a known term in the beer world again, as in the days of yore. The origins of the growler are questionable, with many theories to how the term came about. The most reasonable sounding to me is, in the late 1800s, when bringing fresh beer from a brewery back to your home; the purposed vehicle, usually a pail, would “growl” with the escaping CO2 as it was toted home by the kids. With the advent of packaged beer produced by larger breweries, and the loss of smaller localized breweries, which existed before Prohibition, the use of growlers fell out of fashion. But now the trend is back. Along with the emergence of craft brewing the past few decades, small breweries needed to get their beer to the consumer and, not feasible to only sell kegs, and without a bottling line, how does one do so? Growlers: a vehicle to bring fresh beer from a brewery to your home.

I have my great-grandfather’s growler. Although not a pail, this must have been the time when the local brewery was getting more technically savvy, the yellow and beige glazed ceramic bottle came from my Grandma’s house. She said, “Oh yes, that was just an old bottle my dad would leave on the porch and they would just get filled back up with beer. . .” – and now it’s back in fashion.

For supporting your local breweries, growlers are the way to go — the way to get fresh beer to go, and the way to go green. Yes, as the Slow food, green and going locavore movements are creeping into more of our everyday lifestyle, whether conscious or not, growlers make sense. They are quite reduce-and-re-use-friendly – without having to take them to recycle. But as with everything good, using a growler takes a little bit of effort. Not much, but a little. Understanding good growler etiquette is step one. As growlers are not a new phenomenon, just a revived one, the learning curve should be fairly easy – just like riding a bike.

Fill – drink – rinse – repeat – is the fancy little ditty Midnight Sun Brewing came up with when trying to educate the consumer about growlers. I love it. They’ve got the four major steps down in proper growler etiquette.

Fill – As growlers are a vehicle to get fresh beer from a brewery to your home, they’re not going to last long. I would go a maximum of five days for a sealed growler and, once unsealed, would give the product 24 hours until it has to be drunk. After this, it’s good for cooking. The reasons? When filling a growler from a tap, even with a hose attached to the tap which minimizes foaming and oxygen pick up, there still will be oxygen ingress. Oxygen is not a friend to beer, as it will develop a wet-cardboard mouth-feel. Not super thirst quenching. After opening the growler, it will also start losing carbonation, so it’s best not to let the beer sit around too long. Flat beers not super thirst quenching either.

Drink – sooner rather than later. Fresh beer is best, and it’s the growler which lets you imbibe in your local breweries’ offerings. With a growler at a brewery, you usually have a great variety to choose from. The brewers I know have a standard line-up, but brewers are very creative and crafty people, and can’t help but always come up with new and evolving beers. The growler is a way to get these special small batch and one-off beers out to the public. And a way for the consumer to try these special brews without much commitment. And when you score a good one, you’re the hit of the party.

Rinse – this is one of the most crucial parts of growler etiquette — and the one which takes the most effort, but as I said, not much. Just rinse it when you have emptied the vessel. It doesn’t take much, just some water, a couple quick swirls, and dump. I wouldn’t even use soap as the residue can stick inside the growler and cause nucleation points for the CO2 to stick to and may cause the next fill of beer to have off flavors or go flat quickly. Just don’t let old beer sit around in your growler. Ever. Bacteria and molds can grow quickly in traces of oxygen infused old beer. And it’s not easy, without a bottle brush, to get a mold from the bottom of a small-mouthed jug. It can be done — it takes more effort than rinsing after emptying, though. And it’s so worth it to have fresh clean beer just the way the brewer intended. In fact, I do not know of a brewer who would fill a dirty growler. Brewers are proud of their products and know how fragile they can be — and a dirty growler can and will taint a beer. So keep it clean.

Repeat – and this is one of the best qualities of a growler, as far as I’m concerned. I’m one of those conscious reduce, reuse, recycle people, but as I am most concerned with the re-using part of the equation and am a great fan of fresh beer and supporting local businesses, growlers are my choice vehicle for bringing home beer. When traveling to Haines, Skagway or Sitka, (not as often as would like) I always finding myself bringing home a growler – or two – to share with friends upon my return. It’s nice to bring home a taste of the local Southeast flair, usually a beer not found anywhere else in Juneau.

But breweries are now not the only available resource for filling growlers. Growler bars are an up and coming outlet for delivering beer to the consumer. Fairly prevalent down south, I remember nearly a decade ago going into Über tavern in Seattle, just for the novelty of getting beer off-tap to-go. And the choices — with dozens of beers on tap, none of which I could get in a bottle or try without sitting in a bar — made it hard to decide what beer to take with me on my peninsula hike. I was enamored of the novelty of their growlers, actually a quart ball jar with a sticker slapped on it (I drink out of pint jars regularly). The quart jar is strictly a vehicle for beer which is going to be consumed immediately. The nature of the jar, with its wide mouth and clear glass allows for great amounts of oxidation and lets your beer get light-struck, UV light reacting with hop compounds, which makes your beer go “skunky” in flavor. These are the reasons most standard growlers have a small mouth, and are thick brown glass.

Last summer in Anchorage, I had to make a stop at my favorite bottle shop, La Bodega — especially because they put in a growler bar. I got a gose – a recently re-emerging style of beer, which I would not have been able to try otherwise, unless I found it on tap somewhere. But there it was, amid La Bodega’s extensive wall of taps. As a growler bar, and having no affiliation to any one brewery, La Bodega have their own silk-screened growlers (they are pretty snazzy), and mark what beer you are getting on the cap.

In Juneau, we recently gained a growler bar downtown at Percy’s Liquor. Housed in a portable cooler at the end of the counter, they offer four rotating taps, usually a cider and three other craft brewery offerings. They are priced by the ounce, and have quart jars available, but I noticed they now have Midnight Sun and Denali Brewing growlers in stock (and one from Haines, but that looks to be an example)

Their system of labeling is in development, and this can be a point of contention in the growler world. Do you, as a brewer, fill only your own growler or others? There are great arguments on either side (legality aside, I have read many interpretations of different states laws) and I can see both sides of the coin, as it were. The brewer has the last word on personal policy, I know there are some breweries which will only fill their own growler. Perfectly reasonable. If you are making a product you are proud of, why put it in some other brewery’s labeled container? And in turn, if contaminated beer of another brand is filled in another brewery’s silk-screened growler and is taken to a party – could this possibly ruin the reputation of the brewer even though they had nothing to do with the contaminated product? Ah, the issues which come with something seemingly so simple, good, and re-usable in this time of conservation movements. The other side of the coin – if you have a growler, say, from some brewery down south you may not frequent again, what good is the growler if you can’t re-use it? This doesn’t seem to be such an issue for growler bars as much as individual breweries, as they are dealing with many breweries’ products, but I have a solution, which would work for all: just do as the Über tavern does and slap a sticker on it. I strongly believe (and believe it may be illegal to do otherwise,) that each growler should represent exactly what it contains, the style of beer marked (usually on the cap,) and most importantly, the brewery it came from.

I can envision it now – the status symbol of having a completely stickered growler.Well done, you are worldly and conscious in your decisions to support local and re-use — and it shows you like good craft beer.

• Rachael Juzeler is finding herself freelancing while she tries to focus on the direction her life is taking her next, but it will always involve her love of art, food and beer. She can be contacted at rjuzeler@gmail.com or through her website: www.ratchetconstructs.com

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