History of the Growler

by Jack Hoover October 18, 2016

Today, beer comes in a number of different packages. There’s the standard six-pack of bottles, bombers and, of course, cans. However, you can also get your beer in a growler, allowing you to take home draught beer straight from the tap. Growlers can be found in a number of different types, from glass bottles to ceramics and more, but where did they get their start? Actually, growlers have been around for a long time, even though most American beer drinkers are just starting to rediscover them.

Beer to Go

Growlers started as a way to get your beer from the bar to the house. Before modern technology made mass production (bottling and canning) possible, beer was poured from the tap into a galvanized metal bucket with a handle. The bartender would add a lid, and then you’d carry the bucket home. Of course, as anyone who’s ever tried to carry a bucket of water very far without sloshing it around knows, liquids splash inside any container. In the case of growler buckets, that sloshing released CO2. As the pressure built inside the bucket, it would vent past the lid, creating a rumbling, “growling” sound.
An alternate explanation for the name comes from the fact that bartenders would often seek to under fill the bucket, while patrons would argue for a full bucket. The “growling” between the two parties could have led to the name.
Whatever the origin of the term, the name “growler” stuck, and it’s been in use for well over 100 years.

First to Go

While Prohibition quashed alcohol production in the US (with the exception of bootleggers and organized crime families), the growler actually came under attack well before that legislation went into effect. The Temperance movement was the most vocal proponent for removing growlers from the scene, but even bar owners saw some benefit here (without a means to carry beer home, patrons would have to stay at the bar and, presumably, spend more money than if they’d gotten their growler and gone happily on their way).
In the early 1900s, 20 US cities completely banned growlers, while another 24 put severe restrictions in place. Several others required bars and breweries to pay a hefty fee for a growler license if they wanted to let their customers take home their brews.

Growlers Today

It took a long time for the growler to make its comeback, well after the repeal of Prohibition. In fact, many pinpoint the reemergence of the growler to sometime in the late 1980s, when the Otto Brothers Brewery began offering them (in a glass bottle version, complete with a silk-screened logo). From that point, they’ve exploded in popularity, with growler stations opening attached to bottle shops, brewpubs and even inside some grocery stores (both Kroger and Whole Foods maintain growler stations in some stores).
Growlers are no longer metal buckets – they’ve evolved well beyond that point. Today, glass bottles are probably the most common examples, but there are numerous others, including ceramic growlers, aluminum growlers and more, all giving beer lovers the ability to enjoy freshly poured beer at home.
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Jack Hoover
Jack Hoover

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