August 2, 2012

Be a Knowledgeable Growler User

Midnight struck on August 2 and Arizona began a new era for the growler. (Look for our growler law coverage here, here, and here). There are several things an informed beer drinker should know about growlers and so I write.

Growth and History
The new law has the potential for incredible growth. I wrote a general piece on what this all means for Food & Flourish Magazine. If you are interested in learning about the history of growlers, the linked source I cited in F&F was not included. Jess Kidden, a beer historian, has some amazing photos, scans and stories on growlers and a great many topics. Please visit Jess here:

The Law (or approximations thereof)

Rogue Scenario
Tanqueray Scenario
Next, a reading of the law alone won't give you the latest thinking from the Arizona Liquor Control Board (AZDLLC).  According to Chuck Noll of World Class Beverages as related in the comment section here, ceramics and other non-glass growlers like stainless steel are not allowed. Previously used retail containers are not allowed for refills (the Tanqueray scenario) per Federal Law, though it is acknowledged that this may be impossible to determine in some cases (the Rogue scenario).  Read Chuck's comment and the ones south of it and you're as knowledgeable as anyone in the industry on the legal aspects of a silly matter as complicated as an inert and sealable gravity assisted beer containment device could ever be.

Growler Citizenship
While the law maybe favorable to the consumer, that's not the end of the story (remember things are evolving here). A business has every right to refuse to fill your oil can for any reason under the sun. A business so licensed may decide to get into or out of the growler biz at any time. Filling growlers is not all that easy. Lots of beer in the form of foam goes right down the drain.  Beers sold on premise represents bigger check averages. There may be restrictions on certain beers. No one here would be happy if 3 gentlemen came into a place at a 5PM Hopslam tapping and killed a torpedo before the happy hour crowd arrived.

There should be no whining about this. Respect the establishment's decision. Shop elsewhere if you're prepared to fall on your sword over it but remember the bad karma you racked up will certainly slap you back in the face when the tap list changes. You'll want to come back.

I don't have specific word on this but I can imagine that some breweries will want to stick with tradition and only fill their logo'd growlers. The tradition in the craft beer era has been that growlers were filled only at the brewery and Federal regulations dictated labeling conditions. They enjoyed a special relationship with the customer and had complete quality control.

With this change they stand to gain outside sales but may lose more lucrative across the bar sales. They lose branding and marketing too.

The brewery remains the freshest place to get your beer and you should consider a visit.

Growler Maintenance 
When you finish a growler give it a good hot rinse immediately and dry it upside down. Don't forget to give the cap a scrub in hot water as well.

Before you fill it again, inspect it for organic matter. If it's good, use a hot soak and cold rinse.

I'd avoid using the dish washer for cleaning because of detergents contain surfactants. You may also have jet-dry and other anti sheeting agents in your washer. These products kill beer head and foam is the first thing to fade in growlered beers.. Rinse agents are difficult to remove from glassware even after repeated rinsing. If you clean your glassware in the dishwasher, google "beer clean glassware" and do the test. You'll see what I mean.

 Sheeting (left), Salt (center) and Lacing (right)
Photo; Brewers Association

If your growler is soiled, use a bottle brush and a hot soak. But you really don't need to because you rinsed it right away, right?? You can also use PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash), a non caustic homebrewing cleaning product. It won't leave a slick finish like Oxiclean will. Homebrewers use Oxi sometimes, but I wouldn't recommend it for cleaning glass used for finished beer. PBW is the right product and works wonders with Phoenix hard water.

I use Star San for sanitizing, because that's what I use for brewing. I make 5 gallons of it at a time. Honestly, I don't think you need to keep it sanitized, because you're going to keep it cold and drink it under 24 hours, so there is little point.

Should you decide to use it, be very careful. In it's concentrated form, it will eat through formica and stain surfaces. You don't need a lot of it. You just need to have wet contact for 3 minutes. You'll need to buy a oral syringe to make very small batches since 1 ounce of concentrate makes 5 gallons. If you use distilled water, batches are good almost indefinitely. Using the labeled concentration, Star San is completely safe and is no rinse--it's OK to have a little left swirling around in the container when you're done. A spray bottle of Star San is very handy for storing and using on growlers and the cap.

You can get all of these care products (and professional advice) at Brewers Connection, Brew Your Own Beer, What Ale's Ya, and Hops and Tannins in the Valley. (See here for locations). While you're in there, pick up a few replacement growler caps.

A cold growler foams less. If it's not busy at the bar, ask them to cold rinse your growler and store it in the cooler before filling. Have a pint or two while you wait.


  1. Midnight struck on August 2 and Arizona began a new era for the (growLer).


  2. Solid information for people who may be new to the idea of growlers and for employees at bars where they can now fill growlers.

  3. Good info. A bar has every right to refuse to fill a growler of a rare hard to find beer. Good tips on maintenance as well. I wash mine in the dishwasher with a natural dishwasher tablet and have not had any problems with dissipating foam.