Go Big, Go Growler

By RYAN NEWHOUSE

Since I’ve lived in Missoula, I’ve noticed a sharp rise in the use of growlers at Missoula’s breweries. Perhaps because I’m from the South and my grandfather used to run moonshine, I thought them reminiscent of stoneware whiskey jugs and meant to be tipped up while resting on one’s elbow, but I’ve since become a gentleman and always (well, often) pour beer from my growler into a glass before consuming.

However, I’ve always been fascinated by the growler, a 64-ounce glass container with a screw-on cap or hinged gasket cap, and now I have come to fully appreciate the environmental and social aspects of these common carry-out vessels.

Since Missoula does not currently recycle glass, filling a growler saves about six bottles from our landfill. Nationally, it’s estimated that the use of growlers keeps about one billion cans and bottles out of the trash every year.

A growler can keep beer fresh for at least three days or up to a week if it hasn’t been opened (as if the beer wouldn’t be consumed before then), and growlers are much cheaper and easier to transport to potlucks and parties than a pony keg.

Growlers are also great conversation pieces, and I’ve known many who have a small collection (over a dozen). Some local businesses sell them with their logos printed on them, and our local breweries sell them filled or unfilled, starting at around $8. Bayern Brewing offers an ornate German-styled Ceramic Top Growler, Big Sky Brewing Co. sells neoprene growler covers to keep yours cool, and Kettlehouse Brewing Company keeps a stock of catchy Cold Smoke Scotch Ale growlers.

As great as they are, though, I’ve met few people in Missoula who could tell me where, when and why growlers came to be in the U.S., so here’s a short history lesson on growlers.

In the late 19th century, fresh beer was carried home from the local taproom in a small galvanized pail. It was said that the sound of the beer sloshing around in the pail created a rumbling sound, via the release of the CO2 escaping through the lid, and it sounded like the pail was “growling,” hence the name.

By the 1950s and 60s, galvanized pails gave way to cardboard boxes (similar to Chinese take-out boxes), which then moved over for a variety of plastic containers heavily used in the 1980s. In 1989, the “father” of the glass growler, Charlie Otto of Otto Brothers Brewery (now Grand Teton Brewing Co.), needed a way to sell his beer to patrons when the brewery was unable to bottle it themselves. Seeing the plastic growlers as inefficient, Otto bought a small hand silkscreen machine and silk-screened his brewery’s logo on half-gallon glass cider jugs, and then the modern growler was born, and in our neighboring state of Wyoming to boot.

Growlers can be filled at any of Missoula’s taprooms. Taverns and restaurants in Montana are prohibited from filling growlers for take-out.

****************

Ryan Newhouse has lived in Missoula since 2002 and has tipped his glass in most of the town’s establishments. He is a full-time writer, husband and parent (in no particular order) and a part-time zymurgist. He makes a mean hard cider and pairs his cocktails with dishes from his blog, Cooked Animals: Recipes for WildGame.