For many craft beer drinkers a growler is a great way to drink beer at home. Firstly, not all beer is available in bottles or cans, secondly, picking up a growler is as close as many of us can get to having taps in our houses. A good growler should keep beer relatively fresh and pretty similar to it coming straight out of the tap at the pub.
However, the term growler is a strange one. Where did we get the name growler? Wouldn’t “beer jug” be more appropriate? As with many beer naming conventions, the history behind the term growler is a little muddled and far from clear, but we’ve tried to narrow down the story behind the name and help everyone learn!
The history goes back quite awhile, and while we won’t really concentrate on any of the traditions or reasons behind the humble beer jug’s reasons for being, it’s well worth looking into.
What Is A Growler?
A growler is simply a jug that can be filled up with tap beer so it can be taken away and enjoyed at home. Growlers are usually brown glass, but they can also be made out of plastic or metal. Most of the time a growler is purpose made for beer. There are now special machines that can fill up the jug keeping everything sealed and fresh. But really, any sort of beer jug can be considered a growler.
It’s important that the jug is cleaned well before filling, so sanitiser is often used at the point of filling.
Growler jugs usually hold up to two litres of beer, but it’s not uncommon to see smaller ones. Many speciality growler stores have options as small as ordinary 330 millilitre beer bottles. These are good because even though a good growler can keep beer fresh and carbonated for quite a while, it’s usually a good idea to drink it within about a week or two. So, while a growler is great to share with friends, sometimes something smaller is better for those wanting a bit of a selection.
These days, growlers are primarily used for extremely tasty craft beer that’s not readily found in cans or bottles. However, in another time, these jugs and pails were the only means to transport beer home from the local pub or brewery. No, bottling and canning didn’t exist back then!
Where Does the Term Growler Come From?
A quick look at the Wikipedia article has the short story saying that the term may have come from original growlers being metal pails. These pails could be filled at the local bar and carried home to be drunk at home. The story goes that the sound of the carbonation escaping from the lid was akin to a growl. Maybe it was the quick rattling of the lid as the carbon dioxide tried to escape! The lids were relatively tight, but evidently not tight enough to be completely air tight.
This makes some sense. Before bottling and canning became easily available, the only way to enjoy beer at home was to buy it at the pub or brewery and have them fill some sort of vessel. That vessel might have been a pail or a jug. But the whole thing seems a bit of a stretch.
But who knows? This may be part of the story, but is there more?
The other prolific story is that the growl comes from the rumble of the stomach of the hungry working men who would drink beer with lunch well back in history. After all, at the time beer was often safer than water to drink. They needed a way to transport their beer to work. However, this one seems less likely as it’s the sound a person is making, but the vessel itself!
The less popular reason behind the name growler is that, when the pails were first being used, there weren’t any standard sizes or measurements, so it was difficult to determine how much was in, or should be, in any one person’s growler. Bar tenders and punters would argue about it and ultimately growl at each other over beer and money.
It’s a Good Way to Have Beer
Whatever the reason behind the name, a growler is a great way to get beer home. It’s a bit fresher than out of a bottle or can, and can often allow for beer that’s only available on tap to be had at home.
The growler has come a long way from metal pail, to cardboard (yes!),
and finally to the glass jugs we have today. We even have all sorts of growler accessories these days that will help protect the precious glass jug and make it easier to carry. What a progression from a simple device to bring beer home to something that is almost exclusively used in the craft beer scene.
However, growler filling stores are popping up all over the place, and more and more craft beer pubs and breweries are more than happy to fill up a growler for anybody who walks through the door. In the early days of the growler, it was often a kid who was stuck running down to the pub to grab beer for lunch or dinner. Now we take our time, deciding on what to get, even having a taste or two before committing to an entire growler.
Either way, we think growlers are great.