In theory, growlers are great ways to enjoy craft beer: Refillable glass containers that let you take home fresh draft beer from your local brewery, as well as pick up limited releases and rarities that aren’t being sold in bottles or cans.
In practice, things are less straightforward. Growlers can be a finicky format. If a growler isn’t clean, contamination will adversely affect the taste of the beer. If the beer isn’t consumed promptly, it will go flat once the growler is opened, and there’s a good chance the flavour will suffer due to oxidation.
It’s little wonder, then, that brewers and retailers have a fraught relationship with growlers: It’s their reputations on the line when customers are unhappy with growler fills, even though it’s often the customer’s own lack of diligence that causes an otherwise good beer to go funky or flat.
“We’re personally ambivalent about growlers, but it’s a format that people want,” says Cole Boyd, a co-owner of Bent Stick Brewing in Edmonton, echoing a sentiment I’ve heard many times from people in the industry.
My experience is that many sellers will rinse out a customer’s growler if it looks or smells dirty; many will ask questions about your cleaning routine, and a few will even offer polite warnings if they think they are substandard. However, you shouldn’t expect a busy employee to do your house-work for you. Ensuring a growler will keep beer fit to drink is ultimately the customer’s responsibility.
“The final product isn’t going to be good if the bottle isn’t properly cleaned and sanitized,” says Stephen Bezan, purchasing manager at Sherbrooke Liquor.
The good news is, it’s not hard to prevent an unhappy experience.
Here are a few easy steps to get the most from your growler.
A big reason to take home beer in a growler is freshness, so don’t squander it. Plan to open your growler within a day or two and opt for situations where you’re sharing so it’s finished quickly. Choose a smaller container, like a one-litre howler, if you plan to drink the beer yourself.
Once it’s empty, promptly and thoroughly rinse out your growler with hot water. I usually rinse at least three or four times.
Rinsing is important. But, to me, sanitizing is what ensures consistently enjoyable beer from my growlers. I use dis-solving cleaning tablets for sport bottles and hydration reservoirs that work in 30 minutes. If you use a sanitizer (and you should), rinse your growler afterward to get rid of any chemical residue.
Air dry your growler upside down until the interior is completely dry. Make sure the cap is clean and dry as well, though empty growlers don’t need to be stored with the caps on if they’re being kept clean and dry.
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