Today, many of us carry a growler around with us, so we always have something to fill with good beer at our favorite breweries, specialty stores, and more recently, groceries and even gas stations. Most of us probably never give a second thought to the growler’s origin, but the almighty beer vessel actually dates all the way back to the 1800’s. Back then, fresh beer was carried home from the local pub in a small, galvanized pail. The term “growler” is rumored to have grown out of the sloshing noise it made as CO2 escaped through the lid. Water Street Lake County Brewer brewmaster George Bulvas III contests that the name actually came from the buckets of beer factory owners used to give to workers when their stomachs began to “growl” from hunger, but either way, the name stuck.
As World War II approached, the process of bringing draft beer home for lunch or dinner was called “rushing the growler” and was a common way to quench the thirst at home. During Prohibition, the growler was technically outlawed, but the device stuck around. After Prohibition was repealed, and into the 50’s, waxed cardboard containers that looked similar to Chinese takeout containers were used to take beer home from bars and pubs. By the late 1960’s, most bars had switched to plastic and eventually, many were allowed to sell packaged beer after hours, so the demand for growlers died out for a time.
In the 1980’s, Newman Brewing in Albany used to sell soft plastic gallon containers of their beer, which they would replenish with more beer if customers brought them back. Shortly after, in 1989, Otto Brothers Brewery faced a similar dilemma. Charlie Otto and his father wanted to offer “beer to go,” but had not reached the point where they were ready to package. Since they were not yet ready to bottle, his father suggested they use a similar vessel to the “growler” of his younger days, but Charlie knew an update was in order. He purchased a small silkscreen machine, set it up on the patio, screened his logo onto half-gallon glass bottles that resembled moonshine jugs, and the modern growler was born.
Today, a growler is a half-gallon glass jug that can be sealed and resealed to carry beer home from your favorite purveyor. There are larger and smaller growlers, some with clamp-down ceramic tops and metal handles, growlers made of aluminum to keep light out, and fancy cooling packs, complete with carrying straps. Growlers come in clear, green, and amber glass, but the darker the glass, the better. That keeps as much light out as possible, to ensure the beer inside remains fresh for as long as possible. Growlers can last about a week when sealed, but should be drank quickly once opened, since the seal doesn’t hold carbonation for longer than a day or two once cracked.
Many brewpubs and breweries – including our own – sell growlers, and they’re a great way to get a shareable serving of your favorite brew to enjoy back home. If you’ve never bought a growler, give it a try as a nice alternative to cans or bottles. If you’re an old fan, no time like the present to bring yours in! The beer is always here waiting.