beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on CBC radio's on the coast with stephen quinn:

Do you love visiting different breweries to fill your growler, or are your growlers all at home gathering dust?  Methinks the growler trend is waning.

ICYMI, growlers are bottles – generally 1L or 1.89L in size, that you can fill with beer at breweries and take it to go.  The bottles can be glass, ceramic or stainless steel, depending on how much you want to invest in them.  Most breweries sell the bottles, and fill both their own branded growlers and other breweries’ growlers too.  The 1.89L (64oz) ones are the standard size.  Their half-size 1L friends get called many things, including Boston rounds, growlettes, ½ growlers, and in some areas of America, a howler or a squealer – craft beer folks are nothing if not inventive in their names!

The folklore behind the name is that pails were once used to transport beer, and after being sloshed around in a covered pail, the co2 in the beer would make a growling noise when the lid was removed.  “Rushing the growler” is mentioned in Harper’s magazine in 1893 in reference to children delivering beer to their parents.

Growlers are great for consumers because they allow you to enjoy fresh beer at home or wherever you take your growler, in a portable, and reusable vessel.  For breweries, being able to fill growlers gets their beer to consumers easily and directly.  There’s no delivery or warehousing involved – the beer goes directly from brewery to consumer.  Many a new brewery has been able to keep itself afloat by offering growler sales the instant their licensing is complete and not having to wait months until their packaged product makes it to store shelves.

But there are downsides too.  Beer drinkers may find growlers are a pain to keep clean, all but the stainless steel ones are breakable, they’re inconvenient because you have to have planned to bring them with you.  And you’ve got to carry them around with you – while they’re empty they’re clunky, when they’re full, they’re heavy, and not everywhere has the proper lid size for other breweries’ growlers so you’ve got to keep your caps.  Growler beer also has a very limited shelf life.  None of these issues alone is enough to keep people from using growlers, but when you add them all together, the convenience of taking beer to go can get outweighed by the inconvenience of the method.

Which brings us to why breweries may not love growlers either.  If people aren’t cleaning them properly, the beer isn’t going to taste good.  If you wait too long to drink the beer, it will go flat.  If you leave the growler in the heat, the beer will go off.  Uneducated consumers may blame these things on the beer rather than on their mistreatment of the growler, which can compromise the reputation of the brewery.  The whole point of having fresh beer to go is to give consumers a way to drink a brewery’s best possible product, directly from them.  If the product is going to be mistreated and not be at its best when consumed, the incentive for breweries to do growler fills can disappear.

Growlers also take time for the staff to rinse, blow out the oxygen and then fill them, often leading to line-ups in tasting rooms, and need to hire additional staff.

And then there are the accidental growler collections that almost everyone I know has.  I counted the number of growlers currently in my home.  And bear in mind this is after purposely taking full ones to parties and leaving the empty growler behind in an effort to downsize my “collection” (and I apologize to all the friends I have done this to):  I have 1 ceramic growler, 3 stainless steel ones, 3 glass 1.89L growlers and 4 glass 1L ones.  Plus three different styles of growler holders to go with them all.  I can’t actually remember the last time I used one of these to actually hold beer.

I don’t think growler use is going to die off completely.  Some breweries don’t package their product, so the only way for people to take their beer home is through growlers.  And for some people, it has become a way of life to pack their growler with them to fill it on the way home.

I do think though, that as we see more breweries moving to canning their beer that people will be more likely to buy that packaged product at the brewery rather than filling a growler.  Cans keep the beer fresher than a growler can, and for much, much longer.  With cans you don’t have to decide how much beer you’ll need in advance – 1L or 1.89 – you can just open 355ml at a time and save the rest for another time, be that tomorrow or next month.  With a growler, you’ve got a finite amount of time to drink the beer, and once opened, the remaining beer loses its freshness very quickly, so it’s not advisable to be drinking a growler over the course of several days.  Cans also have the advantage of cooling down quickly, and being lighter to carry than glass.  For me, buying packaged product to bring home just makes more sense.

That said, my stainless steel growlers tend to keep beer cold and fresh for a long time – I accidentally experimented with one that I forgot in my fridge for a couple of weeks and when I did open it, the whoosh of CO2 that greeted me was like music to my ears.  So if you are a growler fan, may I suggest investing in stainless steel?  It works really well at insulating and sealing, and it’s really hard to break!

Beer Picks:

My beer picks this week are all from breweries who do not package their beer, so they’re the perfect places to go fill those growlers!

Let’s start with 2 double india pale ales that are deceptively drinkable:

Boombox Brewing’s Crossfader double IPA:  Brewing out of Callister Brewing, Boombox has rotating beers on tap there.  Currently on tap and available for growler fills, the cloudy and fruity double ipa is perfect for sharing with friends.  This is a heavy-hitter (8.7%) that doesn’t taste like it, so be careful!

Luppolo Brewing’s Double IPA is heavily hopped, yet very well-balanced.  This double ipa uses five different hops to give you aromas of peach, melon and citrus zest.  This is also a heavy-hitter (8%) but so very drinkable.

Then on to the 7% Brassneck Brewing Passive Aggressive – this dry-hopped pale ale is always a crowd pleaser.  It has slightly sweet malts and punchy hops, and despite its name, it will always treat you right.  This was Brassneck’s first beer, and it remains one of two that are almost always on tap and available for growler fills.

Ending with a very easy 5% Storm Brewing Precipitation Pilsner – as we head back into the rain, this North German style pilsner will make the grey go away! Light in colour, crisp and clean in body, with just a little taste of hops.  It is pure refreshment.


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