Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The growler gang

The New York Times has a piece about growlers, looking more at how the ranks of the growler crowd and the places that fill them have evolved lately.

The story doesn't seem to reveal much by way of news or a dramatic trend (and the story is all about New York). But some of the history of growlers is interesting, especially the bit about temperance groups and their disdain for folks drinking at home.

But in the spirit of recapping, here's our observations on growlers ...

For New Jersey brewpubs, growlers are, of course, a big business segment. But production breweries, namely Cricket Hill and High Point, also fill them during tours (they count as that two-sixpack maximum that breweries are allowed to sell under state law).

The best growlers are the 2-liter jugs with the gasket-fitted ceramic lids. They are the only kind Basil T's in Red Bank sells. A proper fill in one of these will store longer, thanks to how the lid latches tight and seals. (This type is also mainstay at High Point in Butler; on tour Saturdays, practically every hand is lugging one.)

Most brewpubs in New Jersey will fill either the 2-liter or the half-gallon jug.

Speaking of the 64-ouncers, most folks know the cap seal of those bottles may not be as snug as their 2-liter brethren. Hence, some pubs take the trouble to tape or shrink wrap the capped bottle (i.e. Iron Hill and Triumph). But let's face it, CO2 is happiest as a gas not dissolved in liquid, and the tiniest of leaks is the path to flat beer inside a week.

However, if you can get a fill to the lip of the jug, then you stand a better chance of beer bought on a Monday storing just fine to the weekend. Absent headspace, there's nowhere for the CO2 to collect, so it stays dissolved in the beer. The trouble is, a lot of times the folks behind the bar at the brewpubs are very busy (or simply have no idea about storing growlers; yes good help is still hard to find). So making sure your growler has minimal ullage (that headspace) isn't on the minds of bar staff.

In Jersey, there are a couple of growler distinctions. Climax Brewing in Roselle Park bottles exclusively in the half-gallon jugs. Over in Milford, the Ship Inn sells the 64-ouncers, and 5-liter boxes of beer (it's a plastic bladder inside a box, and comes with a reusable gravity-flow tap).

Meanwhile, Iron Hill in Maple Shade, the newest addition to the Jersey beer scene, has an automated growler filler that uses a tube inserted into the half-gallon jug so it fills from the bottom up. The result is less air in your take-home beer to make it go stale, and thus, a better shelf life.