Local beer blog celebrity Kendall Jones from the Washington Beer Blog (credits include Craft Beer + Food organizer and the role of Beer Boy on The Today Show) is hosting the February Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday. The topic is simply: growlers. Here’s my take.
In the craft beer world, you’re either a growler guy/gal or you’re not. I’m not. Growlers suck. Seriously.
Now, some would say growlers have plenty of benefits. Growlers provide the freshest beer, in some cases right from the source. Growlers provide access to draft-only beers, as well as special releases available only at the brewery. Growlers provide an easy method for transporting tasty draft beer for consumption at your home. Growlers can provide a cost savings vs. drinking pints at the bar. Growlers are good for the environment (in theory).
But they still suck. Here is why.
Growlers must be filled flawlessly
I’m by no means on expert on growler fills, but I’ve had enough flat, oxidized growlers to know that consistency in properly filling growlers is a big problem, at least at some establishments. Let’s look at the array of filling technique advice. Some folks say you should bottom-fill a growler using a tube. Others say you can just fill from the top. There are even more pro tips: Use a CO2 purge, make sure the growler is cold, cap on foam, use plastic polyseal caps (not the cheap white metal ones), and fill using counter pressure. With all the varying information out there, it’s no wonder growlers aren’t consistently filled flawlessly.
Whether any or all of these advanced techniques are used, this much is clear: Oxygen is bad for beer. At a minimum, the growler should be filled to the brim and immediately capped tightly to minimize contact with oxygen.
Unopened growler shelf life
If your growler was not filled and capped properly, the beer will start to oxidize and go flat the minute you walk out the door. Let’s assume your growler was filled and capped properly. How long will a perfectly filled, unopened growler stay fresh? One would think there would be a widely accepted answer. There is not.
Opinions vary wildly on shelf life. Some folks claim a properly filled, refrigerated growler will last just as long as bottles, meaning months or even years, depending on the beer style. 99 Bottles, which uses a sophisticated PEGAS CrafTap system to apply counter-pressure, boasts a shelf-life of at least 3 weeks for refrigerated, unopened growlers. Others say an unopened growler will keep about a week. Still others say to drink it within a day or two for maximum freshness.
Confused yet? I thought so.
The clock starts ticking
While there is great debate over how long an unopened growler will last, there is little debate over how long an opened growler will keep. Once a growler is opened, it should be consumed that day for best results. Some folks say it can last a couple days, but I always find the beer to be relatively flat the next day. It’s just like an open bomber of beer … it’s never as good the next day.
Now that we’ve established a growler should ideally be consumed in one sitting for the best tasting beer, let’s look at growler sizes. Most growlers out there are the standard 64 oz. glass jug. I have a closet full of them. They’re dusty. The 64 oz. growler holds four pints of beer or a little over five 12-oz. beers. Now I certainly have been known to knock back some beers on the weekend, but I usually limit myself to one 12-oz. beer per day during the week. Growlers are just not practical on “school nights”, though they would work on the weekend, provided you don’t mind drinking the same beer all night.
What about 32 oz. growlers, you may ask. I really like this trend towards more variety in sizes, and may try one of these someday. Still, growlers’ large size equates to zero flexibility. Once it’s opened, you’ve committed to consuming the rest of the growler.
But growlers provide the best deal, right? That was always my assumption too. I assumed that getting my growler filled at my local brewery would be far cheaper than buying bottled beer at the store. After all, they have no cost for packaging and don’t have to pay for distribution, etc. But a 64oz. growler fill is still around $10 in the Seattle area, although there are some cheaper fills such as $6-7 at Georgetown and $6 at Big Time. Fills are more expensive, of course, for special beers.
Let’s compare that to a 6-pack, which you can get for $6-$10 at the store. Depending on the exact beers you are comparing, I can generally get a 6-pack for the same price or usually less than a growler. Keep in mind this is 72 oz. of beer, with the flexibility to crack a fresh 12-oz. beer one at a time. For the same price, would you rather guzzle a growler, or crack open a fresh bottle of beer every night of the week? To me, the 6-pack is a far superior packaging method for the consumer.
But what about draft-only beers?
I know what you’re thinking: most Seattle-area beers aren’t available in 6-packs. Some aren’t even available in bottles or cans at all. I, too, love to drink these tasty draft-only beers from our Seattle-area breweries. As long as I’m traveling to the source anyway, however, I would rather just drink a fresh pint of these beers right at the brewery or my local watering hole. I really don’t need to bring home a growler of 12% Barley Wine.
Other things that suck
Here are some other things that suck about growlers. They take up a lot of space. Many establishments only fill theirs (or charge more for outside growlers) so you are encouraged to buy a new one. They are a pain in the ass to clean and dry. Growler newbies cap the growler before fully dry and end up with a mold experiment. You have to remember to take them with you in the car. They have a stupid-ass handle that makes it difficult to pour with one hand.
So there you have it. Flat beer sucks. Incredibly large, impractical glassware sucks. Growlers suck.