We beer drinkers have quite the love affair with our growlers. We fill them; we collect them, and sometimes, we even drink straight from them. But what exactly is a “growler,” and how did such a joyous jug get such a gruff name? While the origin of the term “growler” is the subject of much debate, the history of the growler is as clear as a white ale.
Resourceful drinkers have been finding ways to cart beer home since that first ancient brewer discovered the magical effect of fermenting yeasts with grains. Here in the U.S, the earliest records of thirsty townspeople carrying beer home from their local watering hole in pails date back to the 1800s. Those early beer buckets were most often made from galvanized steel, and eventually, lids were added to prevent sloshing – for that carrier who was more than likely a little sloshed.
Over the years, the popularity of the growler has ebbed and flowed like a trusty tap. It was outlawed completely in some places during Prohibition, but by World War II, city kids made an industry out of “rushing the growler” to deliver covered beer containers to local workers (or desperate parents). The growler was replaced by the waxed cardboard container in the 50s and 60s, and with the invention of plastic, bars turned their backs on the growler again for cheaper, less breakable options.
The recent resurgence of the growler is attributed to Charlie and Ernie Otto, who opened their popular draft-only microbrewery in Montana in the late 1980s. The small shop wasn’t equipped for distribution, but the pair still wanted to offer their customers a way to enjoy their drafts at home. When Charlie stumbled upon his dad’s old tin beer pail in the attic, an idea formed. He gave the old container a modern day renovation, trading the tin for glass and silk screening his brewery’s logo onto the sides of the glass jugs. And thus, the growler was reborn.
Today’s growlers are appealing for a variety of reasons. Both ecologically- and economically- friendly, growlers are filled right from the tap and topped with a twist-cap that seals in all that hoppy goodness, keeping it fresh for roughly ten days. Many breweries and beer shops – like we here at The Growler Guys – offer custom growlers featuring their logos, but they also come adorned with your favorite team’s logo or can be customized for weddings or other events. There are even sleek, insulated growlers if you prefer to store your beer in style. Available in a range of sizes, they make it easy to enjoy a little or a lot of your favorite brew at home or on the go.
So how did this genius little beer-bearer get its name? That may be best debated over a cold pint. The term “growler” can be traced as far back as 1883 when those early beer lovers swung their tin buckets of beer all the way home. Rumor has it those pails made a grumbling noise as the CO2 came up through lid – and thus, the reason they’re called “growlers.” Another theory asserts the name comes from the sound of a full pail as it was shoved down the bar by a bartender, and yet another suggests the term “growler” stems from the buckets of beer given to workers to prevent their stomachs from growling with hunger. Some even say that “growler” is meant to describe the grumpiness of someone who drank the entire container. The stumbler or pass-outer just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Whichever theory you choose to believe, there’s no denying the growler is great. Next time you’re at The Growler Guys, fill ’em up and raise your glass to the brilliance of those bucket-toting beer lovers– and the glory of the growler.