I love everything about growlers, those sturdy 64-ounce jugs that you can refill with the draft beer of your choice at an increasing number of shops around the city. I love the name, of course, which either stems from a history of surly exchanges between thirsty beer-drinkers and stingy beer-sellers, or from the rumble in the bellies of hungry factory workers awaiting their daily ration. I love the environmental benefit: every time you reuse a growler, that's six glass bottles that don't need to be made, recycled, or disposed of. But most of all, I love having draft beer - the highest expression of beer - in my home, as opposed to having to go to a bar. I love growlers so much that I can't imagine anybody not feeling the same way, but apparently an anti-growler faction exists in the beer world.
I learned of these anti-growler people this morning, as I perused an email from nice-things purveyor Kaufmann Mercantile. They've just rolled out a new type of growler, a handmade ceramic version (pictured) with a gasket-lined flip top for a super-tight seal, and included a nice editorial wrap-up of the latest news in Growler Land. (Who knew retail companies were creating editorial divisions? Oh, right.) The article pointed out that the Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, is not a fan. “Growlers are basically beer destroyers," Oliver told Bon Apetit. "They’re often unsanitary, and the refilling process mixes in a lot of oxygen–the tiniest amount of oxygen kills beer so quickly. Then, if you walk across the street in full sunlight, with a clear growler, the beer will skunk before you get to your car.”
That last part's a bit of hyperbole, no doubt, but I get his point. Beer's a delicate product, and once it's been exposed to air, it gets skunky fast. Not walk-to-your-car fast, but fast enough. And he's a beer maker, so he doesn't want people to judge his beer in anything less than its ideal form. Fair enough. I guess we won't be seeing growler service on North 11th Street in Williamsburg any time soon.
But based on my own extensive experience with growlers, I don't see things that way. Once a weekend (and sometimes twice) I walk from my apartment near the corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street in Brooklyn to The Ploughman, which is at Seventh and 15th. (Beer Table does growlers too.) I'll fill up my growler with something great (last time it was Harpoon Munich Dark), head home, and enjoy delicious draft brews with my wife and possibly a friend or two who drops by. That growler will be empty within three hours, max, and every drop will taste like it's fresh from the tap. That's just how it works.
On rare occasions, there will be a beer's worth left in the growler the next day. It might be a bit flatter, but I've never found second-day growler beer to be skunked. Perhaps that's because we tend to choose higher-alcohol brews, which last longer. It might also be because we own a refrigerator. But in any case, I've "growled" almost every week for three years, and have never been disappointed.
So why does Garrett Oliver not like growlers? Well, it might be a bit of a control issue, which I understand, but his beer can be mishandled in other ways too. For example, bars don't always maintain their keg lines and equipment very well, and any beer geek will tell you that dirty lines produce nasty beer. Does the Brooklyn Brewery do Guinness-style surprise inspections of the bars that serve its beers on draft? (Seriously, do they? I have no idea.) And can it control the cleanliness and appropriateness of the glassware being used? Apparently, standard pint glasses are also bad for beer.
But, again, I believe his hesitance to embrace the growler comes from a good, beer-loving place, so let's just establish a few growler ground rules before we proceed.
- Always make sure your growler is clean and dry before filling.
- Always consume the beer in your growler on the same day it's filled, preferably within three hours.
- If you suspect that the draft lines at your beer purveyor aren't completely clean, call 311 and report them to the mayor or something.
- If you have beer left the following day, you can drink and enjoy it, but you can't write a Beer Advocate review based on it. That would be like writing a Yelp review of a restaurant based on leftovers, and people would never use Yelp to unfairly bash a restaurant.
- If you consistently have beer left over the next day, either learn to drink your fair share, or switch to a half-growler (32 ounces). Yes, they exist.
- Learn how to take care of your growler.
The point is, you've got to take good care of your beer. Keep it clean, keep it fresh, keep it chilled, and use the right glassware. And once you've done all that, relax and enjoy it. This is beer we're talking about. Nobody should make too much of a fuss over it. That's for wine.
A very basic growler will cost you five bucks, and you can usually buy them at the same place you fill them. The Kaufmann Mercantile growler goes for $67, which is steep, but it's the nicest growler in the world. And keep in mind that you'll use it over and over again. (For me, it costs between $11 and $18 to fill up my growler with awesome beer.) Amortize the growler cost over a year of beer drinking and that's nothing.
Kaufmann also sells bottle brushes to keep the thing clean, but they have yet to offer the growler accessory I truly crave: a nice, handheld wooden caddy to carry two growlers at a time. I'm imagining a partitioned thing based on the design of an old timey tool box. You see, some people have trouble finishing a whole growler in one night. I have the opposite problem.
[Related: Kaufmann Mercantile official site; Listings for The Ploughman, Beer Table; BlackBook New York Guide; Follow Victor Ozols on Twitter; Spiegelau Creates New IPA Glass; Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewery Does the Unthinkable: Puts Good Beer in Cans; Wine Kegs, Growlers, and Plorks: Let's Hear It for the Evolution of Booze Containers]