Written by Andrew Knowlton with Sam Dean, for bonappetit.com
Growlers are big right now with beer geeks. The refillable half-gallon bottles let you roll on up to your favorite brewery/fancy beer store/Whole Foods and get a tap-fresh jug o’ suds. They’ve got that back-to-the-basics “artisanal” vibe. Hell, they even have a handle.
Too bad brewers (a.k.a. the pros) can’t stand the things.
The last time I hung out with Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and editor-in-chief of the Oxford Companion to Beer, the touchy subject of growlers came up. In short, he thinks they suck.
“It’s more of a love-hate relationship,” Oliver told me on the phone last week, on tour to promote the Oxford tome. “Brewers love the opportunity to get some beers that are not in bottles in front of a general public, and certainly beer drinkers love them.”
But? “Brewers tend to hate them. Growlers are basically beer destroyers. 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 with say, an IPA, in full sunlight, with a clear growler, the beer will skunk before you get to your car.”
That quickly? “That quickly! For the brewer, this is like if you went to a nice restaurant, ordered something great, and then took the beautifully presented plate of food, scraped it into a bag, put that bag in the fridge for 3 days, microwaved it, and then based your opinion of that restaurant on your bag of old food.”
But what if you drink it the same day? “A brewery will tell you to drink it within a day or two, but plans change. By the time you get around to actually drinking the beer, the chance that the growler will be anywhere close to as perfect as the brewer feels he was able to make it is pretty low.”
Is there no hope? “A few breweries have gone to some quite expensive machinery to basically build a small bottling line for growlers, to keep things clean. But when things are really busy, and some guy’s standing in front of you and just wants to fill up his grubby growler, you’re gonna do it! It’s just one of those things, your child walks out of the door into the traffic, and brewers are reasonably worried about it.”
So growlers might seem all old-timey and legit, but given half a chance, I’ll stick to the best way I know to keep beer brewery-fresh: straight from the tap to my glass, or in a can.