Before Prohibition, when mainly draught beers were consumed, families would send someone to the local tavern to fetch a bucket of the beverage for dinner, according to “The Oxford Companion to Beer.” Today, local breweries are replicating that straight-from-the-tap taste by sending their brews home in growlers, glass vessels named for the sound that the unsealed buckets used to make on those walks home from the pub.
Growlers, which are typically jug shaped, come in 32-ounce and 64-ounce sizes. CO2 is injected into the vessel before filling it from the tap and capping it with a screw cap. A sealed growler will last at least seven days (brewers recommend consuming it in one sitting). Breweries require a deposit on the jugs and customers can bring them back to be refilled as often as they please, though state laws prohibit breweries from filling one another’s vessels. Cost for a filled growler ranges from $8 to $18.
Today, growlers serve both a practical and social purpose. For small brewers like Idle Hands Craft Ales in Everett and Fort Point’s Trillium Brewing Co., the jugs are the only way to take the brewer’s product home. At Idle Hands, a tasting room allows owner and brewer Christopher Tkach to sell specialty and one-off beers that wouldn’t be feasible to bottle. “When you first start filling, there’s this huge rush of glass going out the door,” says Tkach. “Eventually, you have regular people that stop by at least once a week.” Trilliam doesn’t bottle its beer. “Growlers let us get started with the retail shop, as we needed something with a low barrier to entry and flexibility,” says Trillium founder JC Tetreault.
Jack’s Abby Brewing in Framingham sees about two-thirds of their customers returning for refills. “We love the interaction,” says brewer Sam Hendler. Of a growler that doesn’t come back, Hendler says, “Hopefully that’s sitting up on a shelf somewhere and reminding them of Jack’s Abby.”
Because they have enough regulars, Night Shift Brewing can experiment. The Everett company bottles about 60 percent of its beer, according to co-founder Michael Oxton. The remaining beer is kegged and shipped to bars or kept on site for growler fills. Customers return often for new releases. “There’s something so quintessentially local about that,” says Oxton.
After opening a beer hall earlier this year, Harpoon Brewery invested in a growler-filling machine from Austria that has a capacity for up to 20 tap lines.
While the process is largely mechanized, the human touch returns when you bring the jug home. “There’s a real inherent sociability to a growler,” says Harpoon’s Charley Storey. “When you’re opening one, you’ve usually got some buddies with you.”
Some breweries offering growler fills:
Cambridge Brewing Co.
1 Kendall Square, No. 100,
Seasonal and sour beers are specialities
306 Northern Ave., Boston,
Pilot batches available.
Idle Hands Craft Ales
3 Charleton St., No. 4, Everett,
Adheres to classic Belgian recipes.
Jack’s Abby Brewing
81 Morton St., Framingham,
Specializes in German-style lagers.
174 Williams St., Chelsea,
Offers meticulously crafted saisons in small batches.
Night Shift Brewing
3 Charleton St., No. 9, Everett
Experimental beers with unique ingredients.
Trillium Brewing Co.
369 Congress St., Boston,
Eclectic offerings always changing.
Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com.