The venerable beer growler — now ubiquitous thanks to the popularity of craft beer — serves one specific purpose: the safe storage of draft beer for later consumption. But where and when you’re drinking that precious beer may determine the type of growler best suited to the situation.
Before we get into the specifics of growlers, let’s take a step back and explore the name a bit. According to The Growler Station, the name growler harks back to the late 1800s when beer was carried home in a covered pail. As the beer sloshed around inside, CO2 escaped, making a growling sound. The veracity of this story remains to be established, but hey, at least we have some explanation for why we call a vessel that carries beer a growler.
Local laws will determine where you can fill your empty growler. Some states allow you to top up directly at breweries, while others require visiting equipped package stores or dedicated growler shops to get your suds. Depending on the brewery, too, you may or may not be able to use a different brewery’s growler. (Beer laws are funny like that.)
Likewise, the capacity of your growler will be dependent on your state and local ordinances. On the small side, you can fill up a 32-ounce “Growlette” for the equivalent of two pints to go. Some states will allow you to transport large gallon jugs that require two hands to carry. The 64-ounce, half-gallon size is a nice middle ground and will allow enough beer to personally savor as well as share with a small group. More than likely, this is the type of growler you’re most often going to see while out and about at breweries.
The construction of the growler is where you can get creative with your beer vessel of choice. Each has its place depending on the circumstances required.
Types of Growlers
These are the most common type. When buying a glass growler, make sure to select a dark amber one. Clear or lightly colored glass is bad for your beer because it lets in light that can cause spoilage. Many growler stores allow for trade-ins or quick cleaning of glass growlers when getting refills, which makes them an easy all-purpose selection. If you’re only going to get one growler, make it glass.
Stainless Steel Growler
These are better insulated than glass and completely light proof. While they look cool, stainless growlers are also a more expensive up-front investment. On the positive side, since they are unbreakable, you’ll get a lifetime of use with proper care. If you need to keep a growler cold for a longer period of time, stainless can’t be beat.
Somewhere between a steel and a glass growler, the ceramic growler is breakable, like a glass growler, but it also is heat and light-resistant, like a steel one (the price is also closer to a steel growler). Typically, these growlers look the prettiest, but tend to be some of the least useful in the long run. If you want to show off while you’re out and about at the local craft breweries, think about picking one of these up (you’ll also probably be one of the only people using one, so there’s that).
Plastic growlers are also available. The 32-ounce “bullet” style PET growler is a nice choice for the beach or backpacking as it’s lightweight and relatively durable. The larger half-gallon size is good for picnics or for taking on a boat for a day of fishing. Like other formats, plastic growlers can be cleaned and refilled; but if you ever get tired of them, they can also be easily recycled.
If space is at a premium, such as with camping, RV’ing, or maybe just living in an apartment the size of a shoebox, collapsible growlers might be for you. Typically made of BPA-free laminated aluminum, these collapsible growlers hold carbonation for around five days.
One of the latest innovations takes all of the joy of having a home draft system and allows you to take that on the go. Pressurized growlers (made by Growlerwerks) use CO2 to keep your beer fresher, longer. As you might guess, these systems are much more expensive than any other growler on the list, but what you pay for up front translates to better beer in the long run.
Article originally published April 11, 2015 by Lee Heidel. Updated March 7, 2019 by Sam Slaughter.