Good People, Treat Your Growlers Well
The growler. Love it or hate it, many an over-sized glass container graces a beer nerd's shelves. I've seen some recent articles poo-pooing the device and rather than fall in line with those, I thought I'd address some of their concerns by laying down the law about what these brewery-bound vessels are actually designed to do. And I'll give you some hints about how to keep them clean and prepped for a satisfying fill of your next favorite brew.
Really, the thing about growlers is that they're not meant to be kept longer than two days after they've been filled. This is a super-temporary situation for your beer. And the reason for that is oxygen, which is the great beer-killer.
When beer is poured from a tap it's meant to be consumed right away. There's no stopping oxygen from getting to your brew so it's only a matter of time before things start to go wrong. When beer is put into a growler, there's a little head space between the fill line and the cap, and even that amount can start to affect the flavor post haste. The good news is that it's usually a very small space so drinking your growler within 48 hours is a decent rule of thumb.
Guess what, though? As soon as you open that growler, you gotta drink it all. The more oxygen you allow into the bottle, the faster your beer will turn.
And cleaning your growler is pretty easy, honestly. Just give it a good rinse with hot water as soon as you've emptied it and it will be fine. DO NOT PUT THE CAP BACK ON. Capping your growler in between fills just creates a warm, insulated environment for things to start growing. No bueno, and no brewery wants to fill a smelly growler. Just let it air dry and take the cap with you to your next fill stop. Or you can do what I do and fill your growler with water in between uses; then, and only then can you cap it. Rinse it thoroughly, then fill with clean water all the way to the top. That way, if you need water while you're driving around, you have some, or the brewery can just dump the water before filling.
Something new that you might have seen around are what they call "crowlers". This is a self-canning machine that allows minimal oxygen in before it's sealed. More and more breweries are going with this option and for obvious reasons. Every crowler is a one-time-use vessel so it's always clean, and cans preserve the freshness of beer longer. No kidding. Rumor has it we'll be seeing one in our own brewery in the next coming months.
So, don't go recycling your growlers just yet...but do treat them well. Every brewer wishes they had complete control over their beer once it goes out the door but that's just not the reality. If you want your beer to taste like they intended it to taste, keep these things in mind for your next fill.