Boiseans can't seem to get their fill of growlers. Once the vessel of choice for craft beer connoisseurs, 64-ounce glass growlers are now available at gas stations and grocery stores across the city. Brew-hounds on the go can now grab a hot dog and an amber-hued jug filled with fresh draft beer.
But it's not all suds and sunshine. Sixty-four-ounce growlers--eight ounces short of a typical sixer--tend to be more expensive than their six-pack peers. Not to mention, they go bad much faster--often in just a day or two. To find out more about what's driving this trend, we did some price comparisons around town and chatted up a couple of local experts, who weighed in on the pros and cons of drinking beer from growlers.
According to Victor's Grand Teton Brewing, which claims to have introduced the modern growler in 1989, the history of the growler stretches back to the early 1900s, when folks would fill small metal pails at their local breweries and carry them home to drink.
"These covered pails were quite possibly called 'growlers' because the lid made a rumbling sound as the carbon dioxide escaped from under the lid," GTB states on its website.
Though the vessel has changed drastically since then--the most common growlers available today are 64-ounce, dark glass containers with a small neck, a tiny jug handle and screw-top lid--the name and the function stuck. The growler's primary purpose is to contain fresh draft beer that often isn't available elsewhere.
"Growler fills offer an opportunity to take away beer that you wouldn't otherwise be able to drink outside the bar, and that's kind of the main appeal," explained Jack Gunn, wine specialist at Whole Foods.
Standing behind the long bar in Whole Foods' upstairs River Room, Gunn explained that he'd personally rather purchase a growler of beer that's only available on draft, like Woodland Empire Ale Craft's City of Trees IPA, than something that's widely available in cans, like Payette Brewing's Outlaw IPA.
Pointing to a tap handle of Stone Brewing's Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA, Gunn noted, "This has been sold out in bottles for months."
Taste also comes into play with growlers. According to Gunn, kegged beer has different characteristics than bottled or canned beer.
"Beer is just fundamentally different from a keg than it is from a small container," he said, adding, "A lot of beers show better from the keg than they do from the bottle or can. ... You've got to figure that the keg's been under refrigeration the entire time."
Pre-Funk Beer Bar's Ryan Driscoll agreed, adding that stainless steel kegs are more resilient than cans or bottles in keeping beer fresh.
"Draft beer just has a different texture and flavor than packaged beer," said Driscoll. "More of the time it has a richer, fuller flavor and more body and mouth-feel."
Pre-Funk carries 25 rotating beers on tap, most of which it also offers by the grunt (32-ounce container) and growler. Current selections range from an $8 growler fill of Bud Light to a $22 growler fill of Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black IPA.
According to Driscoll, in addition to being more eco-friendly than bottles and cans, growlers are also an asset for local craft breweries that don't bottle their products.
"That's one of the best things about growlers, actually, is that for breweries, packaging is time-consuming and expensive, and if they can just have people come down to their brewery and take a growler of their beer to go, it's beneficial to them as a brewery, and then also people get better beer because it's straight from the brewery and it's fresh," said Driscoll.
: Growlers might look like a good deal at first glance, but they tend to be more expensive than six-packs. Said Gunn, "It looks like this huge jug of beer, but it's actually less ounces than a six-pack."
Boise Weekly did an informal survey of five local spots that sell both growlers and six-packs, and found that most places charged more for 64 ounces of draft beer than they did for 72 ounces of the same bottled beer. At Whole Foods, for example, it costs $12 for a growler of Grand Teton's Sweetgrass APA and only $8.99 for a six-pack--that's about 19 cents per ounce for the growler, and around 12 cents per ounce for the sixer. The price differences were a little less drastic at M&W Market off Warm Springs Avenue, which charges $8.99 for a growler of Sockeye's Dagger Falls IPA and $8.39 for a six pack--14 cents per ounce versus about 12 cents per ounce.
Though a couple of cents difference might seem like small change, tack on the price of a new growler--usually $4-$5--and you're paying quite a bit more per ounce for your beer.
Price isn't the only drawback to growlers. In addition to being difficult to clean, which can lead to residue build-up that funks-up the flavor of the beer inside, glass growlers only keep beer fresh for a couple of days--tops.
Driscoll said that a growler should be consumed "fairly quickly," but added that means "within two to three days of buying it."
Though some companies offer much more expensive growlers that promise to keep beer fresher and colder longer--like Hydro-Flask's vacuum-insulated, stainless steel growler--most people seem perfectly content with their glass jugs. As it turns out, a lot of the growler's appeal isn't in its practicality.
"I think that there's a certain romanticism to having a growler of beer," said Gunn. "I don't really know why, but there are some people who are really attached to their growlers and really like taking growlers places."
Driscoll contends that growlers have more of a high-brow vibe than the humble six-pack, which makes them better for special occasions and sharing among friends.
"It's a great way to share beer with people, bringing a half-gallon to a party or a gathering," said Driscoll. "It's kind of like bringing a bottle of wine, almost."
-10 Barrel Brewing: $10 fills on standard beers, $15 for premium beers
-Bier:Thirty: $10 select fills on Sundays and Mondays
-Boise Brewing: $10 fills on Mondays on everything except for CSB beers
-Brewer's Haven: $11.50 for all growler fills, all the time
-Brewforia Meridian: Growlers currently range from $12.99-$25
-Crooked Fence Brewing Tasting Room: $6 fills on everything except for imperials, which are $15, Saturdays from noon-2 p.m.
-Edge Brewing: $2 off all growler fills on Sundays; growlers range from $11-$18.50
-Highlands Hollow Brewhouse: $11 fills everyday, $8 fills on Mondays for one rotating beer
-Payette Brewing: $10 fills everyday on everything except for limited releases
-Pre-Funk Beer Bar: $10 fills everyday from 4-6 p.m. and all day Sundays
-Slanted Rock Brewing: $8 growler fills on Saturdays from 12-4 p.m., not including imperials
-Sockeye Brewing: $13.50-$14.50 all the time, no specials
-The RAM: $12-$17 fills everyday; half-price fills on Sundays
-Whole Foods River Room: Rotating daily $10 growler fill
-Woodland Empire Ale Craft: $7 growler fills on Sundays, excluding some specialty beers