The growler is having a moment. The 64-ounce vessel reminiscent of a moonshine jug can often be seen lining the shelves of brewpubs, ready to be filled with a beer geek's favorite beer and toted home to enjoy. Though they are undoubtedly trendy, growlers offer far more than artisanal accessorization.
"I think any brewery should offer growlers," says Kris Spaulding, the co-owner and sustainability director of Brewery Vivant. "Not because growlers are unique, but because being very community-focused, a growler makes sense."
Spaulding says growlers have received a positive response at the brewery, which was inspired by small farmhouse breweries of the Belgian countryside. Such French-speaking breweries were hyper-local, only brewing beer for their town and rarely packaging.
This locavorism suits the growler, the history of which dates back to the pre-Prohibition era when people brought buckets to the bar, filled it straight from the tap, and returned home. Today, growlers can be purchased from virtually any microbrewery in West Michigan.
"From a sustainable perspective, growlers are great because you reuse the vessel," Spaulding said. "You refill a growler infinitely instead of recycling four bottles or cans each time."
Besides the lessened environmental impact, growlers are a cost-effective alternative to enjoying beer.
"In my opinion, draft beer is freshest straight from the microbrewery," said John Maxwell, a bartender at New Holland Brewing Company. "The upfront cost is a little more, but once you buy the glass and return to fill your growler, it's generally cheaper than buying a six-pack."
Purchase and refill prices vary based on the brew. Fills of seasonal and limited-edition brews tend to be pricier because they are released in smaller quantities.
However, many breweries offer discounts for mug club members and weekly specials. For example, New Holland Brewing Company offers $2 off any fill every Tuesday.
While a growler can be filled with most any beer on tap, nitrous beers should be avoided. Beers on nitro (think stouts and porters) require special equipment that can withstand higher pressure. Nitrous beers don't travel as well due to these special dispensing methods. A growler cap isn't enough to preserve the carbonation levels, causing the beer to go flat quicker.
"Since breweries have [nitrous beers] in limited amounts we'd rather sell in-house," Maxwell said. "That way when people are in the brewpub they can enjoy one with dinner."
Heat, light, and oxygen are beer's greatest enemies so it's important to keep growlers refrigerated and carefully handled so the brew won't go flat. Once opened, growlers should be consumed within 36 hours for the best flavor, although an un-opened growler can last up to a week or two depending on the tightness of the seal.
The brief longevity of growlers is hardly a downside. Growlers don't only transport draft beer – they transfer the brewpub atmosphere and community vibe into the home.
New to the growler trend? These breweries offer an economical introduction to purchasing, filling and refilling your vessel.
Harmony Brewing Co.
1551 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
harmonybeer.com, (616) 233-0063
Regular prices: $8 glass; $12 fill
Harmony offers a deal that gets you a pizza and growler for $20 seven days a week. Keep an eye out around holidays. Last Memorial Day, fills were $8.
New Holland Brewing Company
66 East 8th St.
newhollandbrew.com, (616) 355-6422
Regular prices: $6 mainstay fill; $8 seasonal fill; $16 specialty fill; $20 high-gravity fill
It is regularly $8 to fill a growler with a mainstay or a seasonal here, but the fill price drops to $6 on Tuesdays with a $2-off deal.
2600 Patterson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
schmohz.com, (616) 949-0860
Regular prices: $3 glass; $7.50 regular fill; $10.50 premium fill
Tuesdays at Schmohz is the Growl-n-Gulp special. If you buy a growler on Tuesdays you get a $1 pint.
103 Michigan Ave. W, Battle Creek
arcadiaales.com, 269) 963-9690
Regular prices: $6 glass; $13 Tier 1 fill; $18 Tier 2 fill; $30 Tier 3 fill
Prices vary on fills depending what tier you want, but a Thursday special offers a $3 off any growler fill.
Founders Brewing Co.
235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
foundersbrewing.com, (616) 776-1196
Regular Prices: $5 glass; $9 Class 1 fill; $16 Class 2 fill
Founders' growlers are made with amber glass, which keeps the beer inside from spoiling when exposed to light. Mug Club members get $2 discounts on glasses and fills.