An Idiot's Guide to Growlers, with Some of Dallas' Growler-Filling Experts
The old-timey glass containers known as growlers may be bulky and don't necessarily fit well in your cabinets, but they do allow you to do something magical -- enjoy fresh draft beer at home. Once only known to your beer-nerd friend who just got back from some microbrewery tours in Colorado, it seems like every other bar and grocery store that has opened in Dallas now offers a range of customized growlers and the option to fill them on-site.
As a Dallas craft beer-enthusiast, there's no doubt you've already jumped on the bandwagon and invested in a growler or two for yourself. But what are you supposed to do once the delicious liquid is drained from the bottom? How does one clean and store such a thing?
We sat down with a few local experts on the subject to get some real answers on how to make the most of your growler experience and avoid pissing off your bartender.
Ok, let's go ahead and get this one out of the way first. How the hell am I supposed to clean this damn thing?
Tommy Gutierrez, who fills growlers at Whole Foods Market Addison and Craft & Growler: The best way is to just rinse it with hot water -- as hot as you can stand -- a few times, then leave it upside-down to dry.
John Jose, co-founder of Dallas-based Union Growler Company: Absolutely. Never try and clean it with dish soap, because soap residue can stay in the growler and will give an off taste to your next beer. For that same reason, don't run your growler through the dishwasher. If you do need to clean the growler, use a product like Star San (available at home brew stores), which is made specifically for cleaning brewing vessels.
Tommy: Also, be sure to clean the cap the same way. I've seen a few caps, especially the white metal ones, which weren't cleaned well and mold started to grow in the threads. Not good.
How should I store it?
John: You should always store your growler with the lid off to allow any residual moisture to evaporate from inside the growler. Then, the next time you use it, give it a quick rinse with plain water to get rid of any dust.
Tommy: I attach the caps to the side of my growlers with a rubber band to make sure that they don't get lost in the cupboard.
Let's say I'm at Whole Foods and want to take home Rahr & Sons Iron Thistle. A six-pack of 12 oz. bottles sells for $9.99, but a 64 oz. growler costs $11. Why should I pay more for less?
Tommy: I hear this a lot, and the simple answer is that fresher is always better. You might get slightly more liquid volume from a six-pack, but drinking fresh draft beer is definitely going to be a more enjoyable experience.
What separates a good growler filling station from a lousy one?
John: I look for growler filling points that either flush the growler with CO2 before filling or inject CO2 while filling. This pushes oxygen -- the enemy of fresh beer -- out of the growler. Also, I watch to make sure the bartender fills the growler completely with liquid beer. Sometimes, they'll fill it only to the point where the top of the head reaches the fill point on the growler, but that head will settle and you'll end up with less beer.
Tommy: I always want someone knowledgeable behind the bar who isn't afraid to let me sample before I buy.
Makes sense. But, couldn't that be abused? How many samples is too many samples?
Tommy: If you're buying a growler, I will let you sample as many beers as you need to make a decision that you'll be happy with. But, in most cases, especially if we've talked about what you're looking for, I'd say around three samples should be enough. Some people want to spend a longer time sampling a wide variety of beers, and for them I recommend going ahead and buying a flight -- almost every bar that offers growler fills will also offer flights for purchase. Then, you can take your time, have a little more of each beer, and enjoy yourself without feeling rushed. The bottom line, though, is that I want to make sure that every customer has a great experience and goes home with something they are going to enjoy.
Another basic question -- how long will the beer stay fresh once I bring it home?
John: There are a couple of factors at play, including how well the growler was filled and what kind of lid you use. The best lids are black poly-seal screw tops or flip tops with a wire cage. Both of these will form a tight seal and minimize the amount of oxygen leaking into the growler, which minimizes spoilage. Metal screw tops aren't airtight and the beer will spoil much quicker. With a good fill and a good seal, beer inside an unopened growler will last anywhere from 2 - 5 weeks.
Tommy: But once you open it, you've introduced oxygen into the growler and the clock is ticking. Your beer will go flat within 24 to 48 hours after opening.
As a bartender, what's your pet peeve when it comes to filling growlers?
Tommy: Man, stinky growlers for sure. I've seen several with actual mold growing inside, because the customer didn't rinse it out well enough and then stored it with the cap on. You know it's about to be bad when you can't unscrew the cap due to the gas that's built up. When I finally do pry it off, it usually smells like nail polish remover. This is no fun for me, and its no fun for the customer who has to wait for me to clean it or wind up with funky tasting beer.
Anything else we should know?
Tommy: This is random, but every growler filled in the State of Texas has to have the Surgeon General's warning label on it. Sometimes, people will bring in growlers that they bought in other states with other laws, but in order for me to fill it I have to put a sticker with the warning label on their growlers. It's not my rule; it's state law.