Growlers are the defining product that turns a liquor store into a trendy, hipster venue worth purchasing from, but what is a growler? In the growler podcast episode Leigh would have you think that it’s just a re-invented bottle. Which is kind of funny as it apparently pre-dates the trusty, brown, crown capped bottle by quite some way.
It’s a 1.9L takeaway container. The kind of big bottle that you fit a whole six-pack worth of beer into. You fill it direct from a keg or barrel and you take it home with you from the pub, bar, brewery or liquor store.
Think about this for a second. Before growlers there weren’t any real bottle shops or liquor stores, it was all done in merchant stores surrounded by tea and flour. The idea of retail alcohol was, instead, a butler arranging a wine cellar and liquor cabinet on behalf of his master by knowing which merchants dealt in decent quality. Beer was sold in barrels not bottles.
The average joe would collect their gin from a tap down Gin Lane or from their farming friend who had a still in the shed, at least before it was taxed and policed. All you had to do was fill an old bottle and cork it or drink it. After taxes hit beer finally became more affordable than spirits but no less difficult to transport.
If you tried filling a bottle from a tap in a pub it’d be all well and good until you tried to cork it and take it home. It’d get too warm and the pressure of the CO2 would take your cork and blow it sky high or risk an exploding bottle. That bottle is worth more than beer inside.
Instead your thirsty patron looking to take his drinking back home with him would fill a bucket. Literally. You’d walk in with a milking pail and ask the barman to fill it with beer and then walk it home trying to spill as little as possible.
If you’re lucky you’ve got a bucket with a lid and the beer sloshing around inside doesn’t spill it just causes the lid to burp with the gas building up. This burping was often a low frequency and fairly rapid sounding like, you guessed it, growling.
Now eventually some genius brewers would send their barrels of beer to the pubs via certain suburbs. Knowing full well they could shift a whole barrel or more of beer by selling it off the back of the cart into people’s buckets at a better margin than what the pub was willing to pay. Many a bar or pub received some lighter than usual barrels.
As things progressed and glass became cheaper, the growler morphed into a convenient vessel that looks a lot like a morbidly obese beer bottle. Handles on the neck or handled cradles became necessary so that a person could swig or pour at their discretion. Basically the growler became this:
So what place is there growlers in the big grown up world of cans, bottles, pressurised kegs and online retail? Is there even a point to sending your kid down to the pub with a bucket when a few clicks on Dan Murphy’s can get you an OK selection of craft beer?
- Most cities have growler dispensers now
- Fresher beer
- Better for the environment
- Greater beer variety
- Access to keg-only releases
- It’s cheaper for a craft brewery to keg than bottle
- Expensive to purchase the first growler
- Beer only stays carbonated for ~72hrs
- Must consume within 48hrs of opening
- Only specialty stores and breweries fill them
- Awkward to carry
The most important part of this whole growler revival is often completely missed by the majority of customers or people trying to sell growlers. It’s something that most industries would kill to be able to do.
Growlers bring you closer to the brewer. By investing in that big awkward bottle you are giving permission to all those craft breweries out there to keep experimenting. If they keep coming up with weird and wonderful beers that are so different from the macro lagers and over-priced import beers then we get to experience the most interesting beers in the world.
You can experiment with enough beer to fill a handful of kegs, even one keg and it will always be profitable by some means. A bottling run, however, only becomes profitable if you are cranking out thousands of bottles. Having that growler means you can have a BBQ or house party and be drinking something so much better than a slab of crappy beer.
Best of all you can go direct to the breweries and pick up the beer straight from their freshest keg! It’s an experience that is personal and real enough to make any marketing or branding agency cry because they aren’t needed. As the crew over at The Crafty Pint point out: branding is a big issue for small breweries and one of the best ways for breweries to deal with that is to be as open to people coming and tasting and talking to them as they can be.
Worried about how to transport your growler back from a brewery or brewpub when you obviously can’t be driving if you’re tasting too? take a look at this nifty cradle for your pushy:
Stay tuned for our feature article this month where we list EVERY SINGLE place in Australia where you can get a growler filled.
Still stuck in the world of online retail but want to try some growler action? Don’t forget Anton from Tru Bru has you covered:
Growlers of fresh kegged craft beer delivered straight to your door!