Growlers on the move

Growlers preparing to stretch their legs and return to service after an extended convalescence on the shelf.

You don’t get to be my age as a beer super fan without a few beer-related regrets. One of them will forever haunt me, like a bad tattoo.

Four years ago, my partner-in-time and I were on our way home from a brewery outing when we got into a stupid argument about something that only seemed like it was about beer. I’m not sure how or when it escalated from repartee, and I’m still not sure of the reasoning behind the act of destruction, but a brand-new growler full of delicious Great Storm Brewing Co. beer ended up shattered in my driveway.

Spilled milk ain’t got nuthin’ on spilled beer. There may have been tears.

But it wasn’t just the lost suds.

Pretty much any growler will get the job done. Some do it with flair and statement. Some, if they survive, become keepsakes and relics. Luckily, I acquired another Great Storm growler before it was too late. The brewery changed hands and became Atrevida Beer Co. in 2018.

My GSB growler went onto the shelf, beside the other 64-ounce glass logo jugs that would go on to gather dust through 2020, awaiting a day when visiting a brewery with a refillable container, of unknown provenance, didn’t seem, you know, kind of wrong.

In the early days and weeks of the first shutdown in March, growler refills were tough to get as brewers negotiated the new rules and safety considerations of a pandemic world. Some breweries opted not to accept the reusable containers due to worries such practices could spread the virus.

But as the year ticked on, as my growlers slumbered and my weekly recycling pile grew, the culture of to-go beer was adapting and changing forever. Brewers who previously had not been set up to deep-sanitize a container on the spot, for patrons seeking refills, figured out how to do so using flushes of super hot water or steam.

The crowler revolution was in full swing, and the aluminum industry was feeling the crunch of more Americans drinking at home — and drinking more, period. It resulted in what Molson Coors called an “unprecedented shortage of 12-ounce recyclable aluminum cans” that, last May, led the mega brewer (and other beer makers) to suspend some less popular products so there’d be enough cans to meet market demand for top sellers. Elsewhere, some breweries rode out the dearth by sending their to-go beers home with us in Mason jars.

Cans are more readily available now, but the price brewers pay for a 32-ounce crowler can has almost doubled since late 2019. A six-pack of cans costs more now, too.

A small price to pay to keep the craft brews flowing, but one that can make for some painful math on recycling day.

Now that I’m back on growlers, I’m feeling a little better about one of those other existential beer regrets — fretting over my carbon footprint and wondering whether all the empties truly make it where they’re supposed to go.

Materials are precious, and finite. This time around I will be a better growler parent. If there’s an argument, I promise to keep the beer out of it.


Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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