Beer Growlers. A Recent Trend or A Part Of Beer History?
Growlers have been around longer than you'd believe!
When it comes to appreciating beer, it's not just about what's inside the glass. It's about how you get it there. In today's rapidly expanding craft beer universe, the humble beer growler is hailed by some as an environmentally concious option (see this page for the comparison of environmental impact of refilling vs recycling) for having the freshest beer possible and by others as hipster wank that will disappear as fast as it seemed to have arrived...
How Long Have Growlers Been Around?
Let's delve deep into the world of beer growlers. What is a growler? Where'd they come from? How have growlers changed over time? What has changed with modern beer growlers?
We'll then dive into the pros and cons of the various types of growlers, and give you an idea of which one suits your needs best, from the $2 PET plastic bottle up to the stainless steel, double-wall insulated, full pub-tap-sporting wonders of tech that exist today. These can store and dispense any drink, keep it cold all day, maintain freshness & carbonation to the last drop or even infuse with nitrogen for some truely beautiful drinks. If you're a beer enthusiast, homebrewer, or just someone looking for a way to move some booze from A to B, this guide has got you covered.
Growler History 101: The Steinzeugkrug
Before we dive into what became the growler we know today, let’s head back a few hundred years in German history, to when stone jugs are the height of beer tech.
The term "Steinzeugkrug" refers to a specific type of German stoneware jug or stein, traditionally used for serving and storing beer. These jugs are a quintessential part of German beer culture and have a rich history that spans several centuries. The use of stoneware jugs for storing liquids, including beer, predates even the Middle Ages. However, the specific form that we recognize today as a Steinzeugkrug gained prominence in Germany around the 14th century. Earlier forms were simply large stone cups.
Material and Craftsmanship
The primary material used for a Steinzeugkrug is a specific type of fired ceramic called stoneware. Stoneware is dense, hard, and non-porous, making it ideal for holding liquids like beer without affecting their taste. Over time, the techniques for crafting these jugs improved significantly. They became collectors’ pieces with incredibly intricate carvings, relief work, and painted designs of all sorts.
200 Years Of Growler Advancement Brings: The Lid!
The 16th century saw the introduction of pewter or silver lids. The main reason for this addition was sanitary; lidded jugs would protect the beer from insects and dust. This feature became especially popular after the plague swept Europe, as people became more concerned with hygiene.
Regional Variations & The Modern Day
Different regions in Germany have their distinct styles of Steinzeugkrug. For example, jugs from Westerwald are known for their blue and grey salt-glazed stoneware, while those from the Rhineland often have intricate brown designs. Regional differences also extend to the shape of the jugs, the type of handle used, and the decorations.
While the traditional Steinzeugkrug is less commonly used today in favour of more modern vessels, they are still produced and are highly collectible. They're particularly popular during Oktoberfest and other beer festivals, not just in Germany but around the world.
The First Beer Growlers
The first use of the word growler was from back in the 18th century in the USA. It was used to describe any container that could be used to transport draft beer from a local pub or brewery to one's home or workplace. The most common at this point was a 2-quart galvanized or enamelled bucket (2 quart equals 1.89L or 64oz which is still the standard size for glass growlers).
While it might sound crazy now, boys were given the job of “growler runners” at building sites. They would fill a bunch of these buckets at the local pub and carry them back for the workers lunch break. What a time to be alive hey?
Adults also got involved in this trade, running full buckets of beer to wherever they were needed, much to the disgust of the Temperance movement, the precursor to Prohibition. The job title they were given was Bucket Boy (which is also the name of a great bottle shop in Sydney that fills growlers if you are around Marrickville or Darling Square) and they ran their wares to the seedier side of town to the actual boys.
"stragglers with pitchers and tin pails are regular visitants to the side door, conveying beer too the orgies in the adjacent shanties and tenements. This is the pleasing process technically known as "working the can" or "rushing the growler." Experience has demonstrated that a very diminutive boy can, in the small hours of the morning, "rush" a particularly large "growler" and cause a considerable amount of inebriety in the sanctity of the domestic hearth." — The Reason: A Journal of Prohibition, March 1886
Why Is It Called A Beer Growler?
The name 'growler' is believed to have come from the growling or rumbling sounds that occurred in relation to buckets of beer in one of three ways according to Merriam Webster
Due to the release of carbon dioxide from the lidded buckets as the boys hurried back to the thirsty men
The thirsty men growling and grumbling waiting for their beer delivery
The growling at the bar tender to give a full measure into the vessel (which would have been covered in a thick layer of foam and easy to fudge the level of actual beer hidden under it).
The Modern Growler Era
Over time, these stone jars and metal buckets have evolved into sophisticated vessels with various features designed to enhance your beer-drinking experience. The growler has graduated from being a mere transport container to a gadget that can maintain the freshness, flavour, and carbonation of beer (and other drinks) for extended periods. Until the most modern iterations (like those pictured below) though, beer growlers have always had some inherent problems.
Traditionally growlers of any sort were filled straight from the beer tap. A cap of some sort was put on and away you went.
The problem here is that you are introducing oxygen into the beer and vessel as you fill it, allowing spoilage bacteria to start multiplying.
Also when filling like this, you aren't maintining the pressure that the beer was under in the keg and that CO2 pressure is what keeps carbonation at the right level. Too high pressure and the beer will become over carbonated over time, to low pressure results in it being under-carbonated.
When just pouring from a tap into a bottle there is no pressure in the headspace (the gap above the liquid inside the vessel) until you screw the lid on. Once the lid is on, carbon dioxide will free itself from the beer to equalise the pressure in the space and the dissolved CO2 in the liquid. This leaves it less carbonated than it was when freshly poured.
These same problems are even more pronounced after you open the growler to have your first drink. More gas escapes, more oxygen enters and your beer loses it sparkle and freshness.
One invention to prevent this is the “counter pressure growler filler” made by companies like Pegus. These remove that initial contact with oxygen and loss of pressure by using a machine that flushes all the oxygen out of the growler and then connects it directly to the keg to fill while maintaining the co2 pressure.
Filling like ths results in a beer growler with similar properties to commercially packaged beer. It can sit for a month or more with no degradation of quality. However, once opened you still have the same oxygen contact and loss of pressure issue.
The machine is also expensive to install and has a limited number of beer lines that can be attached to it, thereby limiting the number of beers that can be filled into growlers. For example a brewpub that has 20 different tap beers may only have 3 of them connected to the growler filler station.
Growlers As A Solution To Oxygen Contact & Pressure Loss
Top of the line growlers with taps and gas regulators (like options we get into below) can be filled from any tap in a bar or brewery as they negate both the oxygen contact and the loss of pressure by following these steps:
You use the regulator to fill the growler with gas (which is heaver than air)
The bar fills the growler using a hose from the tap (into the "cushion" of CO2 to avoid oxygen contact)
You screw the lid on, inject some more gas and pull the pressure release valve to flush out any trace oxygen that might have got in.
You set the pressure to the same as the keg the bar just filled your growler from so it'll never go flat.
You pour from a tap on the growler and as you do more CO2 automatically goes in to maintian the pressure.
Until you drink the last drop it stays carbonated and has no contact with oxygen, plus pours from a tap the way the brewer intended!
Other Elements That Affect Beer Quality
Two problems affecting glass growlers or any other glass vessel filled with beer are heat and UV light.
Beer bottles have historically been made of dark glass for a reason.
UV light damages beer and therefore a bottle that helps prevent it entering was desirable.
Unfortunately, that same dark glass absorbs heat much more quickly than clear glass, warming the contents.
This wasn’t the end of the world for the English, drinking real ales at cellar temperature to warm themselves after walking in from the sleet outside.
Modern lagers though are usually served as close to freezing as possible, especially here in Australia on a 40degC day.
Commercial lagers are now usually packaged in clear glass to display their light clear colour and to stop them warming as quickly.
The Problems Growlers Need To Overcome
So, now we know the problems that need to be solved to have your beer in the best possible condition when it comes out of your growler..
Oxygen contact (starts the beer going bad clock)
CO2 pressure loss (begins going flat without head pressure)
Light strike (causes funky odours and flavours)
Maintaining temperature. (because warm beer is just not good)
Let’s look at the growler options available out there and how they do shall we? We'll make our way through modern growler styles from the most basic and budget friendly up to the ones with all the bells and whistles.
Types of Growlers: A Diverse Range of Beer Storage Options
PET Plastic Growlers: Lightweight & Limited
Literally large plastic bottles. These are often in the shape of glass growlers however in many places you can get ANY plastic bottle you bring in filled with beer. I’ve seen people bring in old milk bottles in New Zealand!
Weight: These growlers are the lightest among the lot, making them convenient for quick trips.
Cost-Effectiveness:Almost always going to be the cheapest option available.
Environmental Impact: They're the least eco-friendly, especially if not recycled properly.
Taste Alteration: Plastic can interact with the beer (especially if it’s some random milk bottle!) changing its flavour. Light, Pressure, Oxygen, Temperature: No Help
Glass Beer Growlers: The Classic
The stereo-typical growler is a 1.89L (64oz or half a gallon) brown glass bottle, usually with a handle on one side and a twist top lid. The 64oz measurement is due to it being widely used in the USA and spreading from there along with their odd units of measurement.
Affordable: Some breweries sell these at nearly cost price for you to take beer home in. They hope you’ll bring the empty back and swap it for a new one. They are usually disappointed with people’s memory.
Visual Transparency: The clarity of glass allows you to see the beer, which can be both satisfying and helpful in judging the beer's quality. However this is also a negative as beer is affected by “light-strike” which can leave the brew tasting funky and unpleasant.
Fragility: They break easily, and when they do you lose the vessel and the beer plus the broken glass makes them unsuitable for taking anywhere near a pool or beach.
Light, Pressure, Oxygen, Temperature: No Help
Ceramic Growlers: For the Artful Drinker.
As mentioned above the German style ceramic growlers are still made and collected around the world. They are a niche product though as they don’t usually have an air-tight seal at all meaning the beer will go flat quickly once filled. The pictured style above is a modern version with a swing cap lid and silicon seal that will maintain pressure.
Aesthetic: They offer a touch of elegance, often coming with artisanal designs that stand out.
UV Protection: The opacity of ceramic prevents exposure to UV light.
Temperature: Stoneware is somewhat insulating and will keep a beer cooler than a glass or plastic bottle
Cost: These beautiful pieces come with a price tag that can be steep, some antique ones get prices in the hundreds of thousands of euros at auction!
Weight: Ceramic growlers are always going to be heavier than their glass or plastic counterparts, making them less convenient for travel and still easily breakable.
Vacuum-Insulated Stainless-Steel Growlers
The modern go-to option for nearly every situation. A Vacuum flask has 2 walls of stainless steel with a vacuum between, which is about the best insulation man has developed. These come in a wide veriety of shapes and closure type (like mini kegs in the video below) and will keep drink cold all day. In the video we test double wall mini kegs against single wall mini kegs of the same liquid volume using a timelapse and thermometer in each.
Temperature Regulation: Your beer stays cold for up to 24 hours even in the most extreme heat with a high-quality insulated growler.
Durability: These growlers are built to last, stainless steel makes them virtually unbreakable. These will be handed down to your grandkids someday!
Oxygen Contact: The caps prevent oxygen getting in or precious beer getting out unless you want it to.
UV Protection: Impermeable to light, 100% protection.
Price: Two walls of stainless steel and the machining to create a vacuum between them as it’s assembled means this option will always cost more than a plastic, glass or ceramic bottle.
CO2 Pressure: While these growlers seal very well, can be filled under pressure correctly, don’t let in light and are unbreakable, once you open it, air gets in, pressure is lost, and your beers quality will begin to deteriorate.
CO2-Pressurised Tap System: The Flagship Model Growlers
A few companies have seen a niche here for people who want their beer to be fresh, perfectly carbonated, and deliciously chilled till the last drop. These companies have designed tap systems for high end insulated growlers to meet this demand that are basically a complete pub keg system shrunk down to a size you can take to a mate’s place on a bicycle. They usually use small disposable bulbs of CO2 gas to push the beer out of a tap (so in theory you never have to open it till it is empty, preventing oxygen contact) while maintaining the perfect pressure, so that your beer is as sparkling and fresh for the last sip as it was for the first.
iKegger 2.0 vs uKeg Comparison
At this level of beer growler epicness there are 2 products that stand out so let’s look at them side by side.
Both the uKeg and the iKegger have these high-end features:
A tap system to dispense your beer (or other drinks).
A device to push CO2 (or other gas) into the growler at a set pressure.
Where Do uKeg & iKegger Differ?
uKeg: Has a cool steampunk vibe going on with a sight glass for liquid level, an attached gauge showing internal pressure and a little beer tap. The gas bulb and regulator are hidden inside the growler for a neater look (more on this below).
iKegger: Has a sleek, modern design with clean lines and a patented push button tap. The gas regulator is external & visible which makes it look a little more “techy”
Horizontal Pouring & Storing:
uKeg: The manual for the uKeg states categorically that it should never be stored or transported in any way other than securely upright. Unless you have unusually wide shelves on your fridge door this is almost certainly going to mean that you need to remove shelves in your fridge to be able to store it upright in there. This is pretty annoying and a waste of fridge space.
iKegger: Is absolutely the opposite on this one. The spout swivels slightly and you can pour with the keg lying down on the shelf in your fridge, taking up barely more space than a bottle of wine or two. The regulator comes with a one-way valve which prevents liquid coming out of the keg and damaging the regulator when it’s lying down and the swivel connection lets you can orientate the regulator in whichever way makes sense in your setup. One of the taglines for the iKegger 2.0 launch was “Get Sideways with a Twist”
iKegger: The tap system simply unscrews from the body and then it’s as easy to clean as any other bottle (just shake some hot water, cleaner or sanitiser in it and let dry).
uKeg: To clean the uKeg properly the entire thing needs to be disassembled using a propriety tool (don’t lose it, at time of writing they were $22AUD to replace) and the inside of the brass parts and sight glass cleaned with pipe cleaners.
Size and Colour:
uKeg:The classic model we are looking at here comes in 64oz (1.89L) or 128oz (3.78L). It is available in copper coated or bare stainless steel (as pictured). The uKeg Nitro and uKeg Go add some more colours to the mix (red, blue, black)
iKegger:The 2.0 tap simply screws into any of their existing mini keg shaped growlers (and most copy-cat ones too). At time of publication that includes double-wall insulated kegs in 2L, 4L or 5L and single-wall uninsulated kegs in 2L, 4L, 5L and 10L sizes. Single wall growlers use half the stainless steel of insulated, making them much cheaper, but also fit more drinks in less space (a 4L insulated keg is the same dimensions as a 5L uninsulated keg). The uninsulated kegs are bare stainless steel while the insulated kegs are black powder coated (as pictured).
Gas & Pressure:
uKeg: The uKeg pictured is their classic model which comes in two sizes. The 64oz one uses 8g CO2 bulbs and the 128oz version uses 16g CO2 bulbs. These are on the inside of the lid so the only way to change a bulb if it runs out is to open the growler and expose your beer to oxygen. If you have gas left over when you finish a growler you have to just let it vent so you can put in a full bulb for your next fill to avoid this. uKeg Nitro is a separate growler for nitro coffee (it uses nitrogen bulbs) but this is not compatible with the classic beer growler so you need to buy both if you want beer and nitro coffee at home. Also worth mentioning is the lack of a pressure relief valve which is honestly very strange. In the instructions they tell you to release pressure when moving a full growler, and there are many other circumstances where you need to too (accidently turned dial too high, have an over carbonated beer etc). Without a release valve the only way to drop pressure is to… open the lid and let in oxygen. The maximum gas pressure the growler can take is 15psi with the included lid or 20psi with the optional ball lock lid.
iKegger: The iKegger mini regulator can use nearly any gas source you can find. You can not only use both CO2 & Nitrogen bulbs in sizes from 2g up to 25g but also SodaStream gas bottles, 2.2L disposable gas bottles of CO2, Argon (for wine or cocktail dispensing) and Nitrogen or even full-size refillable CO2 bottles like your pub uses. The regulator can put out up to 50psi (perfect for fast carbonation, making soda water or nitro coffee). The keg is rated to 100psi and the tap has a 75psi relief valve built in which you can manually pull to drop the pressure inside when needed. When using larger sources of gas or anytime that suits there is also a remote gas line available that goes between the keg and the regulator.
uKeg: The tap system is, for want of a better word “sticky-outy” and prone to catching on things a lot. The tap does have a lock to prevent it turning on when this happens though. They have bought out another growler (uKeg Go) that has a tap that is less obtrusive, however it is again a whole separate kit, not compatible with either the classic or the nitro version.
iKegger: While it looks like it has more external parts, both the regulator and the spout simply click off for travel, making it barely more than a lid for the keg. A clip is included to lock the button and prevent any spillage or there is an upgrade for $10 that replaces the button with one that can both lock up (preventing spillage) and lock down (allowing integration with other systems, more on that below).
Compatibility and Filling:
uKeg: One major downfall of the uKeg has always been its inability to connect to anything else. The only way to fill it is to open the lid and fill it from a beer tap. Remember what we said about contact with oxygen and the countdown to bad beer starting from then? Yep. Also without a pressure release valve you can't even swap the oxygen that does get in with CO2.They have bought out a replacement lid for the growler (plastic lid with a standard ball lock post and pressure valve on it) so you can connect your own CO2 source to it (you’d still need a proper external regulator to do this) but the cap alone is an eyewatering $89AUD at time of printing.
iKegger: The connection where the gas regulator joins to the tap is a standard ball lock post. This is the industry standard used in homebrewing equipment the world over. It has the same action as a garden hose fitting, you can simply lift the collar and click on and off components whenever you like. Valves prevent any loss of gas or liquid and the posts are the same as those on 19L cornelius kegs or pressure fermenters for transferring homebrew.
Under the spout of the tap is a standard 8mm push-fitting stem (John Guest or Duotight style). This allows the iKegger to completely integrate with nearly any existing or future gear natively. Liquid lines simply push onto the spout for either filling under pressure at a bar or for using an external tap to pour from the iKegger. This is very handy if you want to use it as a mini keg in a kegerator or jockey box, or with a pluto gun (beer gun tap on a hose).
There you have it, the ultimate guide to beer growlers!
The Best Growler?
Whatever suits your needs is the best beer growler for you! (probably the growler that has beer in it and is to hand is the best one).
Australian orders over $249 that don't include oversize or weight items (like fermenters & 19L kegs) will see a Free Shipping option at checkout. Unfortunately we can't offer free shipping if your cart includes these items due to the wildly varying shipping cost depending on your order and location.
Paid Shipping Options: All customers (including those orders excluded from free shipping) will also be given a live quote from Auspost Standard & Express services. These include full transit insurance which the free option doesn't and will usually be faster.
Handling Time:We aim to dispatch within 24 hours, usually same day if order is placed before 1pm. Auspost does not pick up on weekends so orders placed after 1pm Friday will be dispatched on Monday.
Expected Shipping Times
East Coast and Capital Cities: Usually delivered within 2-5 working days after dispatch.
WA, NT, SA, TAS, and Regional Areas: Generally delivered within 5-8 working days after dispatch.
Please note that transit time is handled by Australia Post, and delays are rare but possible. We're committed to assisting you in case of any delivery hiccups.
Warranty & Returns
Returns & Warranty
Change of Mind: 30 days
Warranty: Up to 5 Years
We do our best to pack quickly and accurately and we sell gear that's virtually unbreakable. However there is always going to be some exceptions. How we deal with those is where iKegger shines!
Below is a table that details the dimensions and volume that each of our mini kegs and growlers can hold. The 1st table is heights with the screw cap only (this is always included, even when you get a keg with tap system).
If using the iKegger 2.0 you can remove the spout and regulator at any point too, this is the lowest height option and still allows full function.
If using a double ball lock spear you can detach the tap, hose or regulator at any point for storage and reconnect to pour.