Sunday, January 28, 2018

☸️ Back to Basics: the Growler Fill

I briefly mentioned growler fills in an earlier article. Now is a good time to fill in the details of this very common aspect of the craft beer experience.

Growlers are containers for taking tap beer out of a brewpub. Often glass, they can also be made from aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic. The key is that the material should not impart a flavor into the beer, as plastic might, while holding tap pressure. Beer brought home in a growler could sit in the refrigerator for a week, plenty of time for plastics to do their dirty work.

Traditional 64-ounce brown glass growlerAt one time growlers were exclusively a 64-ounce brown glass affair, with a metal handle and a clamp-over ceramic cap (at left, originally from Old Dominion Brewing before they broke our hearts, re-labeled during a visit to nearby Lost Rhino Brewing). A rubber gasket, orange here, fits between the cap bottom and the glass rim.

Today’s growlers are much more effective at keeping pressure and temperature, and are more aesthetically pleasing.

Growlers come in a few sizes. The most common holds sixty-four ounces, which gives you four pints of take-home enjoyment. I’ve seen a number of breweries selling 32-ounce growlers (below), which can be handy if you’re interested in more than one beer. Three of these hold six pints, so you get a variety without too much of any one. Less common, but of more utility at a party or get-together is a 128-ounce growler. Eight pints provides enough beer for you and a few friends before having to move on.

32-ounce brown glass growlerThe upside to bringing a growler to a brewpub is portability. The downside is the need for refrigeration shortly after filling, and depressurization beginning with your first pour.

Craft beer needs to be kept cold, because nobody in the craft brew world is pasteurizing their tapped product. The expense and effect on the product’s flavor aren’t worth the resulting boost in shelf life. After all, this beer isn’t meant for shipping around the world.

Kept properly chilled, a keg of craft beer remains as flavorful and devoid of bacterial infection for the last pour as it was at the first. The same goes for a growler. So, fill after tastings are done and pints drained, and put it in the fridge as soon as possible thereafter. That’ll keep it fresh.

Depressurization is a problem with most growlers. They have, at best, a clamp-shut cap not unlike a canning jar. Others, particularly glass 32-ouncers, have a simple screw-on cap. Either way, this keeps CO2 dissolved in the beer, particularly if the growler has gotten a good fill, devoid of foam right up to the rim, but only until they’re opened. Once the cap is off, though, gas begins migrating out of the beer and wafting away into your kitchen. Shut the cap and the CO2 still has all that space occupied by the first pour to expand into, which means the beer begins going flat right away. There is, however, a solution for this.

Growlerwerks µKeg behind a pint of beerGrowlerWerks makes a stainless steel product call the µKeg (micro keg, at left with a just-pulled pint of Dü Hast Bier, a zwickel lager (5.2% ABV, 18 IBU), Wort Hog Brewing Co, Warrenton, Virginia) that has two unique features. First, a CO2 soda charge is secured under the cap and tightened up into a regulator, which is controlled by a dial in the top of the cap. After the growler is filled to a mark an inch or so under the rim, the cap is screwed on and the regulator dial turned.

The second unique feature takes over here: a pressure gauge attached to the bottom of a sight glass, topped with a miniature tap handle. As the regulator dial is turned, the gauge registers the pressure inside the growler.

Kegs are kept at around twelve pounds per square inch of pressure, with variation among beer styles ranging from higher pressure for light-bodied, crisp beers to lower pressure for darker and boozier brews. Twelve is a good ballpark number, and experimentation with the right setting is key. At the initial fill a pressure of about 8 or so is sufficient. By the time a stainless steel-walled growler is gotten home and into a refrigerator, the beer temperature will have risen and with it, the growler’s internal pressure. Over-pressurizing a growler yields a foamy pour, so better to leave the pressure slightly low until the beer is chilled down. It can be adjusted once the first cold pour is pulled.

Whether you’re new to the craft brewery scene or you’ve been making visits for years, no doubt you’ve seen one or two growler-bearing customers stroll in over the course of each hour. I was sitting at a brewpub with a friend years ago when a woman came in, pushing a stroller. A baby sat in the seat, and four glass 64-ounce growlers were nestled in the fabric tray underneath. She was a serious beer fan wielding a double-duty stroller. Unusual, but not surprising.

These vessels are common everywhere, and every brewery I’ve visited includes a price for filling at least a 64-ouonce growler on their menu. Most will fill a 32-ouncer for half that, and a 128-ouncer for double. If taking home your favorite craft beer appeals to you, ask the bartender whether they sell growlers. Many do. The µKeg mentioned above is available on Amazon, as are many others.

I try to have an empty growler ready to go for our brewery expeditions, but more often than not my µKeg is tied up with a previous fill. I might dedicate a glass growler to future excursions, because I missed the opportunity to bring home four pints of Twinpanzee Brewing’s lovely Better Than Bling IPA last weekend for lack of one. If you’re beginning to feel the tug for a beer from one of your brewery visits, but your refrigerator is dry, consider buying one of the many growlers on the market. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—you can certainly move up to something more elaborate down the road—as long as if holds beer at pressure for at least a few days.

#gorwler #craftBeer #breweryVisit #Growlerwerks #µKeg