Good beer, fresh from the tap, just sings. But short of a slightly expensive renovation job to install a keg stand and tap, getting that just-poured beer requires a trip out, and sometimes you want to sit at home and enjoy a pint. So how to get that fresh beer in a comfortable setting of your own choosing?
Enter the growler, an old concept made new again with the rise of microbreweries and their associated brewpubs. At heart, a growler is just a glass jug with a tight-sealing cap, filled with your favorite brew at your friendly local tavern for consumption off-premises, and almost every microbrewery will fill them, in 32 and 64 ounce sizes. Most microbreweries sell their own glass growlers, with brand logo (and the all-important government warning) printed on the glass; further, as long as that warning is on the growler (and if the growler is clean), most will fill other breweries’ growlers as well.
Growlers, at least as shorthand for large containers for beer, have been around a long time. Joseph Mitchell, in his collection Up in the Old Hotel, recounts their use before Prohibition, quoting a butcher preparing for a massive beefsteak feast:
“In the old days they didn’t even use tables and chairs. They sat on beer crates and ate off the tops of beer barrels. You’d be surprised how much fun that was. Somehow it made old men feel young again. And they’d drink beer out of cans, or growlers. Those beefsteaks were run in halls or the cellars or back rooms of big saloons.”
The emphasis seems to be on excess, and yet the modern iteration of the growler centers on freshness and the ability to take that liquid ambrosia home.
I acquired my first growler on a recent trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home of the Dogfish Head Brewpub. In addition to sampling their brewpub-only offerings—Wet Hop After Dark, a fresh hop dark IPA that sadly managed to hide the fresh hop taste, and a very fine cask version of their 75 Minute IPA—I availed myself of their growler selection and went with a classic, the stellar 60 Minute IPA. I didn’t even mind that the waitress who brought me the growler called my 32 ounce version “a cute little baby growler,” as I had acquired what I came for: fresh beer the next day at home.
And it was fresh. The gasket-sealed cap kept the carbonation going, resulting in a near-tap pour with a generous and creamy head. I’m sure purists could taste the difference between my growler beer and beer right out of the tap, but it was more than close enough for me. I had one of my favorite beers, at the peak of freshness, in the comfort of my home.
So long live the growler! I’m lucky enough to live someplace with several microbreweries nearby that fill growlers, and I look forward to walking in there with my Dogfish Head jug asking for a fill.