Over the past two years, there's been an unmistakable sea change in the way Dallas perceives and consumes beer. A market once dominated by the likes of Bud and Miller has slowly been infiltrated by Lakewood, Deep Ellum and Peticolas among several other burgeoning local breweries. Along with a wider array of choices, the beer-guzzling public is given a larger scope of vessels with which to transport the tasty libations, specifically the growler.
Growlers give you the ability to take home beers that aren't bottled by the breweries, opening up hundreds of new possibilities for the craft beer connoisseurs as well as the less experienced. In order to give the uninitiated a quick primer on the beauty of this wieldy vessel, I spoke to Kevin Afghani (co-owner of Craft and Growler) and Tiffany Vaughan (sud slingstress at The Bottle Shop) to give pups some tips on howl to growl like a pro.
What is a growler? At their most basic, growlers are large glass or metal containers used to port beer from to tap to house to tum in the freshest manner possible. They typically come in two sizes: 32 ounces and 64 ounces, or 2 pints and 4 pints respectively. Typically you'll pay for the growler the first time you get it filled, but then you can simply wash and reuse that same growler each time you go back, so you can give yourself a hearty pat on the rump for doing the environment a solid as well.
Where can I get them? There are several emporiums offering growler fills in the area, including: Craft and Growler, The Bottle Shop, World of Beer, Whole Foods (at the Park Lane and Lakewood locations), Gordon Biersch restaurants and Humperdinks, though keep in mind the final two fill exclusively with their own brews.
What about at the breweries? Unfortunately, no. According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, if breweries were able to sell their products directly to the public, people wouldn't be able to handle themselves. They'd be buttchugging growlers in church while having their kid motor through beer bongs. It would be madness. It could be (and has been) a post unto itself, but the three-tier system for selling booze in Texas is truly baffling.
What are some good beers to start with? If Bud and Miller are your speed, try something different (read: better). "I'll typically recommend something like the Peticolas Golden Opportunity or Franconia Lager," Afghani says. If you skew more toward the Guinness end of the spectrum, Afghani will suggest something like Revolver Brewing's Mother's Little Fracker Stout. Don't be discouraged by an overwhelming selection of unfamiliar taps, new beers are being made available from both local and out-of-state brewers by the dozen every couple of weeks, so it's tough to keep up. When in doubt ...
Sample like a champ. Growlers offer a very distinct try-before-you-buy advantage that you can't normally get with prepackaged bottles. This does not mean that you should belly up to the bar and knock down two dozen samples before deciding it's not really a growler kind of day. If you've got a solid bartender, he or she should be able to help narrow your cravings down to two or three beers before even hitting the tasters. When sampling the beers, try to really pay attention to subtle flavors, especially if you are choosing between different versions of a similar style.
How are the growlers filled? It may seem like an elementary question, but there are actually several unique styles employed in filling the little jugs of joy. The Bottle Shop on Lower Greenville uses a shifty technique to ensure freshness. "We pour the beer straight into the growler then set a pitcher next to the growler to catch the head as it overflows out of the spout of the growler," Vaughan explains. "This helps keep air and foam out of the beer when you take it home." Other joints, like the two Whole Foods locations, utilize a hose that extends from the tap down into the bottom of the growler, keeping the beer calm and orderly as it flows from tap to carrier.
Craft and Growler, on the other hand, laps the competition in terms of high-tech methodology. "We've actually got a patent pending for our tap system," Afghani touts. "We've basically got a beer gun hooked up to each of our taps that fill the growler with beer while simultaneously replacing the oxygen in the growler with CO2. Oxygen is the enemy of beer, so we try to keep that out as much as possible to keep the beer fresh when you take it home." Beer gun? In.
Tipping etiquette. With growlers being a relatively new concept in DFW, it's tough to gauge what the proper protocol is as far as tipping when getting growlers filled. I've seen and heard varying opinions, since the growler walks a fine line between being a retail product and a service item. It's always a safe bet to tip like you would at a bar, especially if you are getting multiple samples, since the bartender is spending time with you helping you pick your poison. If it's grab and go, you might tip like you would at a take-out window.
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How long does the beer last? No matter how the growler is filled, most max out their freshness at around two days after opening. Prior to opening, it depends on a few factors. At The Bottle Shop, their beers typically last around three days before being cracked. "The beer in the kegs isn't pasteurized," Vaughan tells me, "so if you wait too long bacteria could spoil the beer." Clocking in with a longer shelf life, Craft and Growler's can last up to two weeks before you draw the first pint. After the beers turn, you pretty much lose carbonation as oxygen has its way with your precious drank. Darker beers are a little more tolerant to exposure, but it's always a good rule of thumb to drink them sooner than later.
How should I clean the growler? "You know, it's funny. Some people say that soap is actually harder to wash out of a growler than beer is," Afghani says. It's actually true, soap is clings to the walls of growlers with the strength of a thousand exes. After finishing your growler, the best cleaning method is to rinse it out with hot water and let it air dry. "If it's totally dry, you can cap it back up," Vaughan instructs, "but you have to be totally sure it's dry, otherwise you can get some pretty nasty stuff growing in there."
If you're overly Type A, you can also use homebrew-grade sanitizer to completely rid your growler of beer remnants before getting a refill. Products like Star San are great because you can pour them in, pour them out and not have to worry about rinsing.
Whatever your druthers, just get out there and try new beers. There are so many great breweries making quality product around our town, and now that you can take straight-from-the-tap beer back to your lair, even the anti-social can enjoy a top notch sip. Give the growler a spin and witness the greatness of fresh, portable potables.