Although very contemporary and modern, the tradition of bringing home draught beer has its roots in the late 1800s. In the United States, in the early 1900s, most beer was consumed on tap. Many families routinely sent someone, usually women or children, to the local pub (saloon) to take home beer for the evening meal. The container that was most often used was a simple galvanized steel bucket.
This was often covered with a lid to prevent the beer from spilling during the journey. The carbonation of the draught beer made the bucket rattle, hence the name “growler”. Saloonkeepers of the pre-Prohibition era also traded growlers, often from a small dedicated serving window. In this way, women and children could grab a takeaway beer without crossing the saloon to reach the bar.
In Prohibition-era American society, the role of the growler was considerable, as it kept men away from saloons while still allowing them to consume beer at home. Once the prohibition era was over, the use of the growler also slowly disappeared, only to return in the last 30 years as a way of bringing home craft-brewed beer from bars, shops, and brewpubs; often used to transport rare or small production beers.
The revival of interest in growlers has led to considerable interest, especially in the United States, flanking the classic 1.9 Litres format with other new formats such as the crowler and the howler. But what are the differences between these new containers?
Growler: the father of all containers
The ‘oldest’ of containers for transporting beer at home, it has standardized over time in the size of 64 American fluid ounces, equivalent to half an American gallon or 1.9 litres approximately. This quantity allows approximately to serve 4 to 6 pints of beer, depending on how the service is performed. The container is usually made of brown glass, but steel, aluminum, ceramic, or rigid plastic versions can also be found. If the glass is used, it is important that it is brown and not transparent, to prevent ‘skunkiness’ by sunlight. The lid can be flip-top or screw-on, but the flip-top is preferable as it allows for the eventual venting of CO2 by acting as a pressure relief valve.
Another safety measure is that the container is suitable for transporting pressurized liquids and suitable for contact with food. Many craft breweries often make customized growlers with the company logo or special graphics. From an operational point of view, filling a growler is not a simple operation. The top-down filling method (the one used for draught beer in a glass) is not recommended as it would lead to the formation of a lot of foam. Therefore, an add-on extension tube (plastic or metallic) is used. This is connected to the end of the faucet and touches the bottom of the growler, emulating the system of a bottle filler. In this case, filling takes place from the bottom upwards, thus avoiding the formation of excessive amounts of foam. In some cases, and using special tools, the growler can be pre-filled with CO2 and then with beer. This serves to diminish any oxidative phenomena (but not to eliminate them altogether).
In this case, it is very important that the container is suitable to withstand the CO2 filling pressure. In spite of the convenience of being able to transport the beer home, the growler has some limitations in the storage of the product. It should be opened no more than 72 hours after filling (preferably 24 or 48 hours) and consumed within a few hours after opening. It is not recommended to consume one part and store the other for the next few days. This is because after filling, product degradation phenomena begin in terms of freshness, mouthfeel, and carbonation. After 72 hours, obvious oxidation problems permanently ruin the beer, undermining the brewer’s work in producing a top-quality beer.
Further clarification must be made about growler hygiene. As soon as it is emptied, it is important to follow certain hygiene rules to ensure that the growler could be reused correctly. First, it should be rinsed with water, then washed with a non-fat or oil-based detergent. If brushed internally, it is best to avoid metal brushes as they may scratch the inner surface of the container. Once washed, it should be left to air dry with the cap open, then sanitized once completely dry. Products for sanitizing glasses are also suitable for sanitizing growlers. Finally, immediately before serving, it should be rinsed with cold water.
Howler: the younger brother
The howler is nothing more than a smaller version of the growler. In fact, it holds half as much beer, 32 American liquid ounces or about 0.95 litres. The concept behind the howler is to have a smaller container suitable both for keeping costs down and for those situations where almost two litres of a growler may be too much to guarantee consumption in a short time.
Apart from the differences in format, the howler follows the same rules as above, both in terms of production materials, service methodology, and hygiene. It has gained a lot of popularity in recent years due to its low cost.
Crowler: the latest
Different story for the crowler. The format is the same as the howler, 32 American liquid ounces, but the type of container changes radically. This is in fact a large, non-reusable aluminum can. It is filled using a special machine, pressurized and sealed with a metal cap. This system preserves the carbonation of the beer and considerably prolongs its freshness compared to the two formats seen above. In addition, it protects 100% from sunlight and does not require washing procedures after consumption.
The disadvantages are related to the cost, as the container is not reusable and has to be paid for, and the inability to re-seal the container once opened. Although, as seen above, this practice is also not recommended with growlers and howlers. The system was devised in 2010 by the craft brewery Oskar Blues and the canning company Ball corporation.
Having looked in detail at the various formats for consuming draught beer at home, we can summarise by saying that growlers and howlers are identical systems differing only in format, the former being 64 liquid ounces, the latter 32 ounces, while the crowler differs in the type of container. In fact, the latter is preferable with a view to preserving the product and maintaining the quality desired by the brewer. In fact, the pressurized filling system and the hermetic seal allow better preservation of the beer served on tap. Avoiding many of the criticalities that we will have with the other two containers.