Growlers - It's as simple as it gets
21 October 2014
The summer of 2011 was a heady time. Anti-austerity protests were running rampant around the Mediterranean. The phone-hacking scandal dominated the news in the UK; at least until the London riots began. And 'Bridesmaids' depicted, unforgettably, the reality of getting caught short in public. Yet whilst all this was going on, we were also making a modest headline ourselves; releasing our debut BrewDog growler. For the first time, you could transport draft beer from our network of bars to enjoy at home. Keg-fresh Punk IPA on your sofa. Roll the dice on one of our guest beers, to see whether you liked it or not (better than taking a chance on the 'grey kind of lamb').
Fast forward three years, to the spring of 2014. The outside world was still buffeting against continued turbulence, but filed under the category 'takeaway beer development' our first bottle shop - BottleDog - opened its doors on Gray's Inn Road in London. Alongside the grand selection of glass and aluminium-clad wonders, we installed our first bespoke growler-filling station. Featuring fresh kegged beer from ourselves and guest brewers both local and overseas, BottleDog offers a constantly-changing selection of four lines from which to fill your growler (and yes, it also sells those too). But what exactly are they, and how did their popularity come about?
It turns out growlers were invented in America. Turn of the century drinkers would send a family member, or pay a local urchin, to fetch a pail of beer from a bar to drink at mealtimes. These necessary emergencies - no doubt delivered for a hefty fee by the enterprising urchins - were conveyed in what were little more than metal buckets, leaky and imperfectly-sealed. As bubbling froth spumed out of the gaps, the escaping CO2 evidently made a 'growling' noise, giving the receptacles their name. As the beer-toting youngsters dashed about with such haste, apparently the phrase 'rushing the growler' entered the American lexicon (something that would have a very different connotation in the UK, perhaps).
It's been said lines of children would form outside factory gates just prior to lunchtime, ready to scurry off to fill their beery buckets - bars having special serving windows as the kids couldn't go inside. As you can imagine, certain sectors of society didn't look too fondly on this practice, particularly as it doesn't take a great leap to imagine the bucket-carriers having the odd cheeky swig or two on the way back. Prohibition, though, eventually ended growler use; as American brewing went 'underground', children staggering around in the streets with buckets of beer obviously became a thing of the past almost immediately.
So, what about today? Growlers are back - and have been going strong since the 1980s. As well as the delivery method, the technology has improved; glass stoppered jugs, flip top lids or screw-cap metal containers, good for keeping beer fresh in the fridge for several days. Their popularity has been undiminished by the sheer scope of bottled and canned craft beer now available, for one simple reason. 'Growlers have become a solid part of American beer culture because the idea of taking a fresh beer home from the brewery or brewpub is, quite frankly, the easiest and most effective way to do so,' says Chris Groves, Director of Consumers Beverages, a Buffalo-area institution serving growler fills from 172 tap lines.
'Pub culture in the US is still young compared to Europe in general; a lot of our drinking is done at home,' he continues. 'With the rapid growth of craft beer in the US, the first 'package' a brewery can sell will almost certainly be in the form of a [keg for a] growler fill. They're meant to be drunk fresh, which is essentially the root of what a local movement is about - a growler is also a sustainable package. A fully recyclable package that is meant to be used time after time. Finally, it's just a great way to drink beer...it's as simple as it gets,' he finishes.
As Chris states, the overriding benefit of growlers is the sheer flexibility that they give to craft beer drinkers. This ability to wander into BottleDog - or any of our BrewDog bars for that matter - with a humble metal or glass flask, and take keg-fresh draft beer away with you gives you all the freedom you could want. You could head down to the park with friends, for instance. Fill up the ultimate #trainbeer. Get ready for a perfect barbecue pairing. Or, simply high-tail it back home and enjoy on the sofa; that dash for the number 341 being a modern rendition of 'rushing the growler'.
Invented out of necessity, modernised to remain relevant. We'll drink (wherever our growler takes us) to that...