It ain't easy being a growler.
Handled with care, a growler will reward you with fresh, cold, ready-to-drink craft beer. But mistreat a growler and you might as well pour your money down the drain.
"Beer in a growler is like milk from the market," says Dogfish Head Quality Control Manager Rebecca Newman. "Get it home quick, keep it cold, and don't let it sit around too long. … Did I mention keep it cold?"
Growlers, typically reusable 64-ounce glass or ceramic jugs, are made for takeout draft beer. In most places, you can pick them up at brewpubs, but more states are allowing retailers to sell growlers, too. Here at Dogfish Head, we offer growler fills at our Rehoboth Beach brewpub and at our Milton brewery. (Just make sure your jug has the Surgeon General's alcohol warning label.)
So, why go with a growler vs. a bottle? A few reasons.
"If you're going to a picnic or a dinner and want something nice and cold and ready to share, a growler is a good option," says Rebecca.
Growlers are also good for small batches, exclusives and other beers that aren't bottled or canned. And since growlers are refillable, they're an environmentally friendlier choice, as well.
But all that goodness comes with some potential pitfalls. The caps on growlers are not as airtight as the crown on a bottle, so they shouldn't sit around for too long. And once a growler is opened, you've got about 36 hours – maybe 2 days at most – before the beer goes flat.
Two other enemies of growlers are heat and light. Carbonation is more volatile in warm beer, so when the temperature goes up, the carbon dioxide evolves, or escapes. Once it's gone you can't get it back. Light, particularly through clear glass, will react with the hop compounds to produce a skunky flavor. (Hey, college was fun, but that's one memory we can do without.)
Also, keep your growlers beer-ready. Wash and dry the jug (and the cap) and don't let it warm up just before a fill. Many places won't fill a dank, dirty growler.
So, if you're traveling long distances, buying beer long before you plan to drink it, or hoping to make your haul last, it's best to buy bottled beer. Since most craft breweries don't pasteurize their beer, there's no difference between bottled and draft.
But, if you're headed to a get-together and want to share a few fresh beers, a growler is the way to go.
"It's fun to share and makes a great conversation piece," says Rebecca. "How cool is it to bring a fresh jug of beer to a dinner?"