I have already expectorated all over the crackpot alcohol retailing laws of my new state, and in that vein, let me praise the new Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting for introducing me to the growler. I made a WF run yesterday, and saw the ingenious way the store gets around Pennsylvania’s crazypants beer law. Because you can only sell beer by the six-pack in bars, WF created a pub within the store. You can buy beer or wine by the glass and enjoy it on premises … or you can go to the cooler in the back of the mini-pub and buy a bottle of beer or a six pack. Or you can purchase a “growler,” one of two sizes of glass jug with a top, which you can have filled from one of six taps. I bought the small growler, and had the clerk top it off with an IPA (all six beers are locally brewed). We’ll see how that goes. When you finish your growler, you can take it back to be refilled. It’s like buying beer from a bulk bin. The thing is, you have to consume the beer within a couple of days, or it goes flat, or flattish (this, according to the growler expert standing behind me in line). That’s why I bought the demi-growler bottle; I can’t go through 64 ounces of beer that quickly. Sadly, I have declined with age.
The NYT wrote last week about the rise of growler culture in New York City. Excerpt:
Growlers — 64-ounce glass vessels that look like a moonshine jug — have become the beer accessory of the moment. And the jugs, filled at taps in bars and stores, are not just the toys of the bearded, flannel-shirt, beer-geek set.
“In the beginning we tried to figure out, ‘Who’s going to be our market?’ ” said Ben Granger, 32, an owner of Bierkraft, which began filling growlers in spring 2006. “We thought, mullet-heads and beer-bellied dudes. But the first run was ladies with strollers. They will tell you they’re buying them for their husbands. Three weeks later, they’ve got two. One’s his and one’s hers. The next one that caught me by surprise was dads coming in with their kids. Then there’s the beer crowd who’ll rush in to get on this or that before it’s gone. There’s no age limit.”
Michael Endelman, a journalist at Rolling Stone, is one of those growler-loving fathers. “I don’t go to bars too much anymore,” he said, gesturing to his baby daughter Mimi. “It just seems like a great way to be a beer geek without going out.”
Some customers appreciate growlers for reasons of economy (refills range from $8 to $20 or more) or ecology. And as more craft brewers choose not to bottle their products, many fans like the idea of getting fresh beer that until recently was sold only in specialized bars.
There is, however, a potential problem with growlers — one that I encountered yesterday afternoon [read past the jump for more]…
From the NYT story:
That much-vaunted freshness, however, depends on how the bottle is filled.
“There’s always the possibility that someone may not fill the growler properly,” said Shane Welch, founder of Sixpoint Craft Ales brewery in Brooklyn, which sells its products in stores in growler form. Most stores and bars run the beer straight from the tap to the bottle. “If you don’t fill it to the top, if you don’t purge the air out of there, when you close the container it will be stale beer,” Mr. Welch said. “You probably have to drink it that night.”
Mr. Granger, who says growlers constitute a large percentage of his sales, has tried to avoid that possibility. He has a system in which bottles are filled under pressure through a plastic hose to keep out oxygen. Filled that way, he said, they could stay fresh for months unopened, and three to five days when opened.
“Ergo, no flat beer,” he said. “No oxygen in the bottle, no foaming beer, no waste.”
I watched the growler guy at the Whole Foods here fill my bottle and others, and he didn’t fill them all the way to the tippy-top. We’ll see how it turns out today.