Say Hello to the Crowler

Photo: http://www.newschoolbeer.com

Rob Symes

This isn’t a typo, and there’s a good chance that you may see crowlers being produced by a craft brewery near you soon. Our options for taking beer home from a brewery have been limited, especially if the brew is a one-off, or if the brewer has elected against bottling or canning. In these situations, the trusty 64-ounce glass growler is the usual vessel of choice, coming with its deposit and potential for breakage. The crowler is essentially a 32 ounce can that promises full recyclability and easy portability.

North Americans have been taking beer home or to workplaces since the first drinks were drawn on these shores. Our continental forefathers employed a whole variety of pails, buckets, pitchers and bottles, but it was a haphazard process, plagued by issues on standardization and pricing. It was also unclear whether carrying home a bucket of beer in the nineteenth century was cool or classless. The two quart galvanized pail was the go-to option of the day, and the belching carbon dioxide from the lid gave birth to the term ‘growler’. Kids would run the growler down to the bar and fill it up for hard-working parents. These were different times. Growlers faded into obscurity until 1989 when the craft beer movement picked it up as a great way of allowing customers to take home beers – some which were available in other formats, and some which were draft only. Glass became the preferred choice for the growler because of its ease of cleaning and reuse.

Canned beer has been around a slightly shorter time than the growler, but it is only in the past two decades that it began to shed its association with mass produced lagers. Many credit Colorado’s Oskar Blues with bringing cans into craft beer vogue, and they’ve had a canning line since 2002. It’s no surprise then, that they took steps to innovate further and reimagine the well-established growler model.

Home canners of jams and pickles may have heard of the Ball Corporation – they make glass jars and lids for preserving, something that most of us know by the name of another brand – mason jars. Ball also makes machines that seal steel food cans, and Oskar Blues forged a relationship with them to develop a larger can and a machine that would be able to seal it on the spot. The process is simple: a topless can is filled from the tap, a lid is added, and the can is placed in a machine that seals the edges, locking in goodness, and locking out many of the things that can cause our beer to spoil.

Unlike growlers, crowlers are not reusable, but they can be recycled. They also come without a hefty deposit and won’t end up cluttering your garage. Perhaps most intriguingly, they are far lighter and safer to carry, which is of interest to anyone who’s flown with beer in their case or has backpacked beverages into a national park. Crowlers can currently be found at select breweries coast-to-coast, including Vancouver’s Granville Island, Toronto’s Eastbound Brewing and Fredericton’s Graystone Brewing.