Growlers have been synonymous with craft beer in America since the heyday of the 1990s brewpub boom, when fewer breweries had the capacity to package beer. Filling a 64-oz glass jug with something exotic like amber ale or porter was the primary means for many people to enjoy fresh craft beer at home. Though the ‘90s brewpub bubble eventually burst, the humble growler endured into the 21st century. Now it’s rare that a taproom—or beer bar, or supermarket, or even convenience store—doesn’t sport its own branded growler.
There’s a hoary notion that the term“growler” probably comes from the 19th century, when takeaway draught beer was carried home in lidded metal pails, “which sometimes apparently rumbled [or ‘growled’] with escaping carbonation” according to the Oxford Companion to Beer. Growler tech has come a long way since then. And while the humble half-gallon container has achieved symbolic status, it’s far from the best conveyance for your precious suds available today. Below are several options for carrying your to-go draught beer in style and, more importantly, in a way that will preserve its quality.
A quick note on growlers and draught beer quality: from the moment beer flows from the faucet it starts to degrade. Oxygen, light and time are all enemies of beer quality and freshness, for various reasons. With a couple notable exceptions (more on that in a moment), growlers are not great vessels for long-term beer storage—and they’re not meant to be. A good rule of thumb is that you should consume your growler-stored beer in less than a week, lest you pop it open to discover it’s now flat and stale. Certainly there are ways to extend its life; I’ve even heard of people going so far as to wax-seal the caps of growlers of rare beer for shipping or trade. Deranged collectors aside, follow the simple rules for all packaged beer to get the most out of your growler: keep it cold, keep it dark, drink it fresh.
Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Growler
Hydro Flask is a brand more associated with yoga studios and Patagonia puffers than breweries and taprooms, but they make a great growler. If you’ve ever owned one of their insulated water bottles—I use mine daily—you already get the gist: stainless steel construction with the attractive signature powder coating. Vacuum-insulated and double walled, the Hydro Flask 64-oz growler claims to keep the suds chilly for up to 24 hours. A convenient carry handle makes it imminently totable. Pair it with the insulated 16-oz “True Pint” and tell your active lifestyle friends it’s actually kombucha in there. ($25-65)
Portland Growler Company
There’s something about crockery: the heft, the sturdiness, the porous texture. It’s just more human, somehow, than glass or steel. The Portland Growler Company’s clay-based growlers are handmade things of beauty. Made of slip-cast ceramic and insulated for beer longevity, these jugs also sport a handsome (and hefty) ceramic flip-top lid with rubber gasket to seal in carbonation. (Removing the gasket and giving it a good rinse after each use isn’t a bad idea.) Sadly, it seems that the company recently stopped taking new orders, and their website has evidently gone dark—but you can still find these handsome bois in certain homebrew and specialty shops, especially in the PNW, and at least one online vendor still seems to have them in stock. Get ‘em while you can. ($70)
“Top of the line,” “overbuilt,” “completely unnecessary,” these are all valid ways of describing GrowlerWerks’ line of pressurized growlers. They are also undeniably pretty awesome. And spendy! Depending on the model you choose, you’re talking about laying down a couple hundred simoleons for a half gallon jug. But what a jug it is: double-walled, stainless steel vacuum-insulated, and riveted brass handled. It also has a sightglass, beer faucet, and pressure gauge. You could definitely do some steampunk cosplay with this thing. The uKeg’s functional claim to fame is that it uses food grade CO2 cartridges to keep your beer carbonated correctly, GrowlerWerks says, “for two weeks.” This thing is about as far as you can get from the humble glass jug, but bear in mind that it’s an actual working piece of draught equipment, and thus needs to be cleaned and maintained. Maybe just go for the kegerator? ($150)
Thrift Options: Plastic, Pouches and Cartons
If you want to get out of the 64-oz glass jug game but aren’t prepared to shell out upwards of $50, there aren’t a ton of options available. Every now and then an enterprising entrepreneur decides they’re gonna reinvent the growler, make it more sustainable, less prone to breaking, cheaper, etc. A few years ago I was seeing ads in beer trade magazines for something called “LeisurePak,” a growler solution that looked like a milk carton. That company has evidently since folded (or never launched), though a similar concept called “BeerPouch” soldiers on. While wine in a bag continues to grow, beer in flexible containers is a little trickier due to its carbonation. Maybe your best bet is a PET plastic growler, like the “Prowler.” You are now drinking from a plastic bottle. At least it probably won’t shatter if you drop it.