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Beer growlers 101

These to-go jugs bring the brewpub home to party

  • These 64-ounce growlers contain the equivalent of about four pints of beer.
These 64-ounce growlers contain the equivalent of about four pints of beer. (Hilary Higgins/RedEye )
January 31, 2013|By Kate Bernot, @redeyeeatdrink, RedEye | RedEye

Having people over for a party? Good luck fitting all those beer cans in your recycling bin. A fresher, more efficient option for quenching your pals' thirst is the growler, a 64-ounce to-go jug ready to be filled by your local brewpub. While brewers say they see the popularity of growlers growing in Chicago, there still are some questions about these party-pleasing bottles. Here's everything you need to know to fill up.

What's the benefit?

Canned or bottled beer has been packaged, processed and shipped, meaning it's not as fresh as beer poured straight from a keg into a growler. "Some beer benefits from aging, but most of the beer people drink does not," said Ben Saller, brewer at Atlas Brewing in Lincoln Park. "Getting beer that was brewed two weeks ago instead of two months ago can make for a better-tasting beverage." The reusable container also cuts down on waste, making it more environmentally friendly. Plus, some breweries offer growlers of beers that aren't available in cans or bottles.

Where do I get it?

Brewpubs sell their own glass growlers for an additional fee of about $4-$5 on top of the cost of the beer with which it's filled. Once you buy the growler, it's yours to keep and refill.

Can I refill a brewery's growler with another brewpub's beer?

That's up to each individual brewery, so it's best to call ahead. Most of the breweries in Chicago say they'll fill any pub's growler—as long as you've washed it first. "As long as it's clean and [has] the government label on it, we'll fill it," said Pete Crowley, brewer at the West Loop's Haymarket Pub. "I won't fill a growler full of funk, though." At Wicker Park's Piece, however, brewer Jonathan Cutler says the pizza spot and brewpub's liquor license doesn't allow them to fill any growlers besides their own.

How long does the beer last?

Because the growler isn't sealed the way a can or bottle is, it has a relatively short life span. "After you open it, it's better to consume it that day," Ben Saller said. "The second day, it will be OK to drink but a little flat. By the third day, it's probably not worth drinking." In doubt? Treat it like a 2-liter bottle of pop, Cutler advises.

Can I fill a growler with any beer?

Not all beers are available in growlers. Brewers may not have enough small-batch or limited-release brews to offer them in these large containers, and beers that are on special draft (such as cask-conditioned or nitro-pour beers) also are generally off-limits. Legally, brewpubs also cannot offer growlers of other breweries' beers, so stick to the house-brewed drafts.

How much does it cost to fill?

It varies. At Haymarket, the pricing system is simple: Take the cost of a pint of any beer on the menu, multiply it by three, and you'll have the cost of a growler fill. (That saves you money, since 64-ounces is actually four 16-ounce pints.) So at Haymarket, a growler fill starts at about $15 and can top $30. At Atlas, these range from $12 to $22, and at Piece, a refill ranges from $12-$14.

How do I clean it?

Brewers recommend rinsing with hot water as soon as the growler's been emptied. Avoid soap, since the residue can affect the flavor of the beer. Air dry with the cap off, then seal it for storage.

What can't I do with my growler?

"People sometimes try to drink the growler on premise, and we don't really like that," Atlas' Ben Saller said. Instead, once it's been filled and sealed with a melted plastic top, keep it shut until you're home. A growler could violate Illinois open-container laws if the plastic seal has been broken.

Why is it called a growler?

There are plenty of stories explaining the growler's name, but most trace the word back to early-20th-century English pubs. Beer could be taken home in tin pails with lids on them, and when gas escaped from the carbonated brew, it rattled the lids to create a sort of growling noise.

kbernot@tribune.com @kbernot

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