BARLEY MOWAT: On The Especially Rapid And Very Welcome Rise Of Growler Culture

January 11, 2013.
Growlers lined up at the filling station inside Vancouver's brand new Powell Street Craft Brewery (1830 Powell St.)

by Chuck Hallett | In case you haven’t heard, craft beer in BC is going through something of a renaissance. If you aren’t already aware, last year saw the addition of five new breweries to this fair province – Townsite (Powell River), Parallel 49 (Vancouver), Powell Street (Vancouver), Bridge Brewing (North Vancouver), Firehall (Oliver) –  and 2013 will see the addition of seven more. Many of these new breweries will be local to Vancouver, and (almost) all of them will be filling growlers out of the gate.

What’s this, you say? You’ve never heard of a growler? Well, my friend, I’m about to change your beer-loving world for the better. A growler is, quite simply, the best way to bring home fresh and locally produced table beer. A growler is environmentally friendly. A growler is affordable. A growler is…well…to be honest it’s a big bottle that you take to the brewery and get filled with draught beer.

Other cities such as Portland, San Diego and Seattle have long had a large number of breweries filling growlers. Heck, even Victoria has a strong growler culture (eg. Phillips, Driftwood, Hoyne). But for whatever reason, Vancouver did not partake until recently.

Sure a few local brewpubs would (and still do) fill growlers, but no one was doing it industrially until Parallel 49 Brewing opened in East Van earlier this year. They installed a professional growler-filling station and began selling 2 litres of draft beer for $10. They have since added two more stations due to demand.

Dieter Friesen filling up at the Parallel 49 Brewing Company's tasting and growler bar (1950 Triumph St.)

Growlers aren’t just cheap. They also give you a chance to take home beers that the brewery perhaps doesn’t bottle, and sometimes even rare one-offs. What’s more, with many of the smaller breweries, that person behind the counter filling your bottle probably also brewed the beer, and they’d love to tell you all about it.

In terms of quality, our award-winning local craft breweries are turning out some of the best beer in the country, and the difference between getting it fresh on site (or after the several weeks it takes to clear the LDB’s red tape) will impress you. Odds are, there is some seriously good beer being made a few minutes from your doorstep, so why settle for something brewed last summer in Europe?

Today, only Parallel 49, Powell Street Brewing, Steamwork’s and Yaletown Brewing Company do growler fills in Vancouver (Bridge Brewing and Central City offer up fills in North Vancouver and Surrey respectively). In the coming months, however, things are going to get very interesting.

The location of The Brassneck Brewery, currently under construction off East 6th Ave at 2148 Main Street

Opening this year in the old Brewery Creek district around 6th and Main are no less than four new breweries: Main Street Brewing, Red Truck, Brassneck and 33 Acres. All will fill growlers. And slightly further afield are Doan’s Craft Brewing Company, Four Winds, and Dogwood Brewing. All are slated to open their doors this year and would likewise love to send you home with two litres of The Good Stuff.

Every brewery that fills growlers also sells new, branded ones, but everyone will fill anyone else’s growlers. 2 litre growlers typically cost $10-15 to buy and $10 to fill, while smaller 1 litre growlers are around half as much, perhaps a bit more than half (note that not all breweries sell or will fill a one litre growler).

Once you have your precious beer, if it was filled in a proper station, it should keep refrigerated for as much as three weeks before you open it. Once open, you should drink it within two days for maximum freshness. And when you’ve drunk your last, just wash it out and take it back to the brewery (or a different one) for more. It’s a general rule that breweries do not wash your growlers for you, and most will refuse to fill a dirty one out of fear that it will taint the new beer.

So give a growler a try. You’ll find yourself stopping off at your local craft brewery for a litre of beer to go with dinner more and more, and wondering how you ever did without.

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Chuck Hallett lives and works in downtown Vancouver. His passionate obsession with craft beer borders on insanity. When not attempting to single-handedly financially support the local brewing industry through personal consumption, he spouts off on his award-winning beer-themed blog: BarleyMowat.com. If you’re in a good beer bar reading this, odds are he’s sitting next to you. Be polite and say hi.

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