Beer to Go: Growlers, Crowlers and More
America is slowly moving out from beneath the cloud of Prohibition era legislation. It’s a slow process for some states (we’re looking at you, Georgia and Mississippi), particularly in the Bible Belt. However, all 50 states have seen at least some relaxation of the laws governing brewers and how drinkers can get their hands on the brews offered up by those breweries. One of those is by picking up beer to go right at the brewery, or at a brewpub. While some areas of the country have had this option for a long time, it’s just arriving for others. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways that you can snag some beer to go.
One of the most popular ways to take beer from the brewery back to your house is in a growler. Growlers have actually been around for a very long time. Originally, they were metal pails with loose-fitting lids. As the carbonation escaped past the lid, it would make a “growling” or hissing sound. Thus, the name was born. Today, growlers are usually made of glass, although there are metal, plastic and ceramic options on the market.
You can buy them directly from the brewery or brewpub, or you can bring your own to save some money. They’re also available in a range of capacities, from smaller 32-ounce options all the way up to 64 ounces and even larger formats. Note that growler size/capacity is sometimes hotly debated and tightly controlled by state governments. For instance, it was not that long ago that you couldn’t buy a 64-ounce growler in Florida, and Georgia is really just now getting on board with growlers in the first place.
There are a few problems with growlers. One of those is that glass shatters easily, and isn’t a safe option if you’ll be taking your beer to the beach, lake or river. Another is that screw cap lids can leak, particularly if being carried on an airplane (pressure changes affect the seal). Rubber gasket style lids offer some security, but the seal can degrade over time if you’re not particular about cleaning and maintaining the gasket.
Crowlers are something different. Really, they’re just big cans that are filled per your specifications at the brewery and then sealed on premises using a special machine (called a Crowler machine). These containers hold 32 ounces of beer, and they start out as open, unsealed cans. Your choice of beer is added to the can, and then the machine goes to work, sealing it while you watch.
Crowlers aren’t ubiquitous just yet, but they are becoming more and more common with larger and mid-sized breweries. They give drinkers the chance to take home a beer from their favorite brewery without the problems posed by glass. Drop a can and you’ll likely dent it, but it won’t shatter the way a glass growler will. Metal is also better for beer in the long run.
A special lining prevents that hated metallic taste from being imparted to your brew, while the metal itself prevents any light from penetrating the liquid and degrading it. Crowler cans are also more air-tight than glass growlers, which means there’s less chance that your beer will go flat if you don’t drink it right away.
While quite a few breweries and brewpubs have embraced Crowlers, that’s not true for all of them. The machines can be expensive and out of reach for many. That’s where bottling by hand comes in. You can most likely pick up bombers and/or other singles from a brewery near you. A bomber is a 22-ounce bottle, often used for special release beers that will only be offered for a limited time in limited quantities. They may be capped, or might be sealed with a cork depending on what the brewery wants to do, but they are excellent ways to not only get beer to go, but to add to your beer cellar for aging.
Yes, many breweries offer standard six-packs and 12-packs to go (if the state’s laws allow it, of course), but some have started offering mixed six-packs of their brews. This allows their fans to take home a selection of different beers to enjoy a wider range of the brewery’s products. For breweries, it also means that they don’t have to worry about shortages in their offerings due to one beer selling better than others. Mixed six-packs offer a fun variety pack of options that you can share with your significant other or friends, without having to drink six of the same beer.
Yes, conventional six-pack and 12-pack options are available. There are also four-packs on the market. This format is usually used for higher gravity beers, or those that are only produced in very limited runs to help ensure that more customers have a chance to enjoy the beer than would be possible if the brewery packaged their beers in larger quantities.
However you get it, whether in a Crowler, growler or capped bottle, taking beer home from your local brewery gives you the chance to not only enjoy your beloved brew later, but it also ensures that the brewery itself is getting the lion’s share of the profits. It cuts out the middleman, and while direct sales will never surpass sales on the wider market, every little bit helps.
What are your favorite ways to get beer to go from your local breweries? Have you tried Crowlers, or are you still using a conventional growler? Would you rather grab a mixed six-pack, or do you prefer drinking six or 12 of the same beer instead? What other to-go packaging options have you found out in the wild?