Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36 Page 37 Page 38 Page 39 Page 40 Page 41 Page 42 Page 43 Page 44 Page 45 Page 46 Page 47 Page 48 Page 49 Page 50 Page 51 Page 52 Page 53 Page 54 Page 55 Page 56 Page 57 Page 58 Page 59 Page 60 Page 61 Page 62 Page 63 Page 64 Page 65 Page 66 Page 67 Page 689 Back in the early 1990s, a Toronto brewpub operated three separate bar and restaurant spaces within the same building, one of which was called Growlers. Staff must have grown very tired indeed of explaining to patrons that a ‘growler’ was a take-away container for beer, since such things were at the time strictly forbidden in what was then still a very straight-laced and conservative city. How times have changed! While Growlers the bar has sadly disappeared from Toronto’s beerscape, growlers the containers have proliferated, even to the point that the provincial liquor authority, the LCBO, has added a growler filling section to its flagship downtown store. And it’s not just Toronto, either – growlers and growler fill stations are now commonplace all across North America. Where cans are threatening to overtake bottles for the packaging of beer in North America, at least in the public consciousness, growlers may someday soon threaten to overtake cans. Among the biggest proponents of growler sales are the owners and operators of very small breweries, people like Jason Fisher of the Indy Alehouse and Ron Keefe of the Granite Brewery, both from Toronto. “We sell a ton (and) customers love them,” says Fisher, adding that the “non-beer media” might like them even more, as they “cannot get enough of them in stories.” On a strictly practical side, Keefe notes that “they are an excellent cost-efficient way (for small breweries and brewpubs) to get your beer out there (but) you must be straight-forward with the customer about their limitations” – and more about those limitations later. Not everyone is quite so enamoured with the growler, though. Some brewers, like Brooklyn Brewing’s Garrett Oliver, are less than thrilled with the way their beers are treated at the average growler fill station. “We have a total package oxygen of under 40 ppb (in Brooklyn’s bottles and cans),” says Oliver, “The package is either sterile or contains only microbes we intend. Anything less is an unacceptable compromise.” That said, Oliver does agree that the growler can be useful if the filling is handled correctly, quickly adding that such instances are, in his view, “few and very far between.” It’s a sentiment echoed, sort of, by Scott Smith, owner of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s East End Brewing. “I'm certainly for (growlers),” says Smith, “Although the beer world is filled with horrendous growler handling practices that I am against.” Such practices are laid out quite explicitly by Jim Parker, sales manager for Portland, Oregon’s Baerlic Brewing. “You're taking a vessel of dubious cleanliness, filled with ambient air, splashing beer in, often with no downtube (or, worse, a dirty piece of tubing), oxygenating the hell out of it, wasting lots of foam and slapping on an often disgusting, rusty cap,” observes Parker, before adding sarcastically, “What could go wrong?” Of course, Parker’s description doesn’t need to be the norm for growler filling, and it may not be long before such practices go the way of the eight ounce ‘pony’ glass and puncture top can. New growler filling systems are appearing on the market on what seems to be an almost weekly basis, including many that purge the container of oxygen, thus minimizing the risk of oxidation, and operate within a sterile environment, so eliminating concerns about contamination. As such systems proliferate, growler filling should become less of a gamble. Even the most fastidiously operated and maintained growler filling system will fail to account for the greatest variable in the equation, though, that being the cleanliness of the growler itself. And here the camps part sides again. While some breweries will keep a refrigerated supply of sterile-filled growlers on hand for exchange – dirty growler in, clean growler out – that by definition limits them to sales of their own proprietary growlers. Some customers, such as Wisconsin beer enthusiast Bob Paolino, object to this practice. “If I buy a growler fill, I typically have filled whichever growler I happen to have with me,” Paolino explains, “Insistence on filling only your own logo growler is a deal- breaker for me.” In the end, where the pros and cons join voices is in their insistence that even the most pristine growler is at its best as a strictly short-term storage container for beer, as noted by Ron Keefe when he was discussing the growler’s inherent “limitations.” “Number one is that when you open a growler, you have to drink it fast!” says Keefe, “Speaking with (the Granite Brewery’s) customers, I am convinced that 95% of the growlers we sell are consumed in the first 48 hours.” All of which might seem like a lot of qualifications – cleanliness, low oxygens, willingness to fill non-proprietary growlers and quick consumption – but for a package that shows no signs of losing popularity any time soon, they might add up to the necessary equation for the future. Stephen Beaumont Letter from North America Gaga for Growlers A professional beer writer for 25 years, Stephen Beaumont is the author or co-author of eleven books on beer, including the new fully-revised and updated second edition of The World Atlas of Beer and The Pocket Beer Guide 2015, both co-written with Tim Webb. Stephen’s latest solo book is the Beer & Food Companion, which was published to much critical and commercial acclaim in October of 2015. Stephen has also contributed to several other books and written innumerable features, articles and columns for publications as varied at The Globe and Mail and Playboy, Fine Cooking and Whisky Advocate. When not writing, he travels the world extensively, tracking down new breweries and hosting beer dinners and tastings from São Paulo, Brazil, to Helsinki, Finland, and Beijing, China, to Seattle, Washington. 9_Layout 1 30/10/2016 12:33 Page 1