Brews News: Good riddance growler, you big lug

Growlers, those refillable half-gallon jugs so tightly connected with anti-corporate craft breweries, are ready for consignment to dusty bottle collections and blue boxes.

Once iconic and closely associated with craft beer, growler jugs are now just as likely to be collecting dust on shelves than being used to bring home a fresh selection as cans have become the better option. (Wayne Newton, Special to Postmedia News)

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Hipsters, begin the mourning. Growlers, those refillable half-gallon jugs so tightly connected with anti-corporate craft breweries, are ready for consignment to dusty bottle collections and blue boxes.

Growlers, along with their half-sized howler cousins, once were the vessel of choice for craft breweries. Even the LCBO dipped its toes into the market by offering growler fills at single stores in Toronto and Ottawa.

And those refillable bottles were the only way to take home beer from London Brewing when it was starting out as a monthly pop-up shop.

Once iconic and closely associated with craft beer, growler jugs are now just as likely to be collecting dust on shelves than being used to bring home a fresh selection as cans have become the better option. (Wayne Newton, Special to Postmedia News)

“Growlers are still being offered by London Brewing, but we have certainly seen a decline in their popularity. Cans continue to be our most popular vessel, based on sales volume,” said Tim Stewart, London Brewing’s taphouse manager.

The reasons for the shift start with quality and end with quantity.

While the first purchase of a growler starts with a clean bottle and tight cap, subsequent fills can be less so as consumers can be guilty of being less diligent about cleaning their bottles. The beer has to be consumed within two days without going flat and remember, a growler is almost a six-pack in a bottle.

“Growlers provide an eco-conscious choice for consumers,” Stewart said. “They are reusable containers that are easy to clean and refill, with minimal environmental impact. Cons pertaining to growlers would largely centre around convenience. Growlers are a bit bulky and can be heavy, depending on construction material. They are also a beer-drinking commitment, meaning, once opened, you really need to drink the entire contents in less than 48 hours, or the beer loses carbonation, thereby altering the perception of freshness and flavour profile. There aren’t many common or practical ways for the average beer drinker to preserve carbonation in an opened growler.”

Approachable beers, low in alcohol and bitterness, are the best choice for growler fills as they’ll be consumed more quickly. But many craft beer fans like to taste what’s new in smaller amounts, leaving less love for growlers While growlers will continue to have a life at the tiniest breweries where canning lines are not an option, they’re fast becoming a blast from the past elsewhere, albeit not without fans.

“For us, at least, we have put a fair amount of effort into making our rotating beers available in cans so we have seen more people going for that route,” said Gavin Anderson of Anderson Craft Ales. “I still believe growlers are a great way to take your favourite beers home, especially for smaller breweries with limited packaging options.”

Some breweries, such as Storm Stayed on Wharncliffe Road in London, never got into the growler game. When it first opened, they’d clean and fill growlers brought in from customers, but Storm Stayed never sold its own branded jugs.

“Ultimately, we stopped filling growlers because the quality and shelf-life of properly packaged cans is superior,” Storm Stayed’s Michael Naish said in an email. “Once we started canning all of our beers, it no longer made sense to offer growler fills. Further, due to the large volume of a growler, it is often not consumed in one session, leading to further degradation.”

In other words, rebel look be damned, craft beer is now about quality.

“We want our customers to experience our best beer that we can brew, presented in the best manner possible,” Naish said. “For us, this means avoiding growlers in favour of short cans, along with small-format bottles for the odd special release.”

I wonder how many times someone has given up on a brewery or a beer when the real problem was a dirty or chipped container and its storage.

“Growlers have been a signature vessel for many craft breweries,” Stewart said. “They are an environmentally-friendly option and a great collectible. However, growlers are in-tough against the creative branding possibilities with cans and small bottles, as well as the convenience around transporting and storing these smaller containers. The growler will likely remain an offering at some breweries, but it’s unlikely to see them playing any significant part in a mature craft beer brewery’s retail beer program, in a way they once did.”

Eras end. Pass me a can.

NEW AND NOTED

It’s history and hops, pints and a politician for a tiny new brewery in downtown St. Thomas as beer fan and politician Steve Peters boils down the city’s legacy of brewing, wort and all. Peters, a former Ontario cabinet minister and current city councillor, speaks Oct. 26 beginning at 2 p.m. at Caps Off Brewing, 168 Curtis St. Peters has a keen eye for breweriana and will have some curious collectibles with him. Thinking he’s diving deeper than the first bottle of Dead Elephant.

Beertown Public House and Sawdust City Brewing of Gravenhurst have launched a new collaboration called Harvest of Eden, a fresh-hopped old world pilsner. The launch party was at Beertown’s London location on Fanshawe Park Road.

Storm Stayed has an American lager fresh from its tanks. Keets is 4.8 per cent alcohol, crispy and quaffable.

Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist based in London.

wayne.newton@bell.net

Twitter.com/WayneWriteOn

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