Your Beer Growler Is A Temple: Give It Some TLC

brewery 85 craft beer growler filled by will 2

Surely, you’ve heard the word.

By now, if you don’t know what a beer growler is, we’ll also assume you know very little about craft beer. But, for those of you “beer lovers” who skipped class the day growlers were covered, please allow me to fill you in. Growlers are those jugs that people take to breweries or bottle shops (now, also grocery stores and gas stations) to have filled with craft beer for off-site (at-home) consumption.

A standard growler, in most states, is a 64-ounce brown, glass jug that will yield about four pints, if filled properly. Often times, breweries and retailers also offer half-size, 32 oz. growlers, as pour options along side the 64.

Let’s say we just passed Growlers 101. Now it’s time for Advanced Growler Drinking.

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Some people call it beer to-go.

We have a taproom on site here at Brewery 85, and I pour growler fills daily. Recently, a few folks came into the taproom who unknowingly committed the two mortal sins of beer growler drinking and storage. As a result, we were looking at some potentially dissatisfied customers. Since we aim to please – our local craft beer community and the beer gods, alike – we took care of them and sent them on their way absolved of their transgressions and in possession of some pure, good damn beer.

So, what exactly were these patrons found guilty of? In what ways did they offend the beer gods so that their punishment was an unpleasant beer drinking experience? That’s what we’re going to cover here so that you might learn the ways of the righteous and have your cup runneth over with good beer for all the days of your life.

I don’t like to throw this around often, but there are a few reasons that you should trust me:

  • I have a degree in Brewing Technology from the World Brewing Academy based in Chicago & Munich.
  • I’ve worked at the Greenville Beer Exchange which was at the time the no.2 ranked bottle/growler shop in the world (according to RateBeer) only behind the Charleston Beer Exchange.
  • I’ve spent countless hours independently researching these facts and unfortunately, skunking and damaging some good beer in the process.

So let’s get down to it.

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Mortal Growler Sin No.1: Bad Beer Hygiene

The cleanliness and care of your prized beer storage vessels is of the utmost importance. Just like our large fermenting and brite vessels in the brewery, these little suckers need to be thoroughly cleaned and rinsed. Before we fill a growler here on site, we also sanitize it, and we recommend if you get your growlers elsewhere that you ask for this option. Don’t be afraid of the sanitizer bubbles, as most standard brewery sanitizers are rinse free and will allow the beer to be poured directly into the container.

Here’s a small punch list for your consumption:

  • When properly poured and cared for, unopened growlers will last about 72 hours before there is any noticeable oxidation flavors after it is filled. You can stretch it anywhere between a week to possibly a couple of weeks if left unopened but after that flavors will degrade over time. Fresh is always better, in my opinion.
  • Filled growlers do best under two conditions: In the dark and in the cold. The beer likes cold because  beer doesn’t like to get hot/cold/hot/cold over and over again. It damages the overall flavor of the beer. Also, sometimes but not always with fresh craft beer the yeast doesn’t get filtered all the way out and it could wake back up (especially with some wild yeasts that brewers are now using) and continue fermenting the beer under the right conditions. The end result is not good! The light issue we will get to in the next section.
  • Once you open a growler think of it as a bottle of opened wine. Best case scenario is that you’ve got about a day or two to drink it before it loses its freshness and becomes oxidized. Oxygen is a big killer of beer flavor and taste.
  • Once you’ve emptied the growler it’s best to wash it out thoroughly with really hot water. Let it air dry and be sure to store it with the cap off. If you don’t, it might create an environment for bad little bugs to hide and grow and ruin a future growler fill.
  • You can then reuse the growler, just remember to ask that whomever fills it next sanitizes it and if possible, purges the growler with CO2.

Mortal Growler Sin No.2: Keeping A Clear-colored Jug

Long story short: Light reacts with the hop particles in a beer and destroys them some times within a matter of minutes. This can occur when the beer is placed in a container that allows light/UV rays to pass through it. It may not seem like it but a handful of minutes is all it takes to destroy a beer in a clear growler. This is what I’ve learned in my education and in a personal circumstance as well. It leads to a beer becoming “light-struck” or what is more commonly referred to as “skunked” beer. Some may favor this flavor, but it’s not how our beers are designed. Think of that classic green bottle European flavor.

Short story long (for the science buffs):

“German chemist Carl Lintner first described the odor and gave it the name “‘light struck flavor’ in 1875, and in the 1960s Yoshiro Kuroiwa and associates in Japan determined 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol was the main source. MBT, in fact, closely resembles the odor of that skunks spray and is derived from photodecomposition of isohumulones in the presence of a photosensitizer, riboflavin. It has a very low threshold of detection and occurs quickly in direct sunlight so may be perceived by the end of a pint consumed outdoors on a sunny afternoon. Kuriowa’s work showed the blue part of the visible spectrum is most efficient in generating light struck flavor, which is why brown bottles provide protection from MBT, clear bottles don’t, and green bottles only limited defense. (1)”

So why do some beer brands in clear bottles not produce or have this off-flavor? Well, some brewers will use only hop extracts in their beers. Nothing wrong with it, but these hop extracts reduce this affect greatly. You will find this method of hop introduction popular among macro beer producers and not so much in craft breweries. Extracts will almost always not be the only hop source in beers you would be filling your growler with. You might also perceive some notably different flavors from some of the Big Beer brands than you would in true craft beer.

Super science GO GO GO:

“Use of these products can inhibit the formation of sunstruck aroma, but the bittering profiles of beers made with these products are vastly different than those made with natural hops. Beer Packaged in green or clearglass tends to develop this skunky off-aroma more quickly than beer in brown glass. This is one reason why beer in celar bottles often taste quite different than beer in other packages. (2)”

There are a few key factors that can make your growler filling experience pleasant. Make sure you are consuming your beer in the proper time frames laid out either by the pros or by the place you’re getting it filled. Remember, proper cleanliness and sanitation are big factors for both you and your growler filler to keep in mind. Avoid exposure to air, light, and even heat for as long as possible. Enjoy.

*Fore more info on growlers please see this sheet from the Brewer’s Association Draft Quality website.

1) Heironymous, Stan (2012) For the Love of Hops;
2) Oliver, Dornbusch et al (2012) The Oxford Companion to Beer.

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Hey y'all. I'm Will. I make beer and have fun. Some times I say funny things. President & co-Owner of Brewery 85. MBAA District Carolinas Programming Coordinator. Graduate of Siebel/Doemens. Cicerone Server. eTips.


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