By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
As a server at a growler fill station, I thought I’d seen every type of growler: ceramic ones fancier than my serving dishes, collegiate ones that look like glow sticks, stainless ones that mimic kegs. One day, that all changed when a regular customer waltzed on in with a plastic — yep, plastic — growler.
Before you start thinking he tried to bring in an old gallon jug that once held 2 percent milk, I can assure you it was a genuine, 64-ounce amber-colored growler begging to be filled with delicious beer.
The particular growler in question came from Growler University in Eugene — the only place in Oregon I’ve seen that carries them so far — but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start popping up all over the state within the next few months.
What I am stunned by, however, is the fact that with about a dozen plastics manufacturers in Oregon, these PET growlers have yet to actually be made in the state, as far as I know. With Oregon having such a huge growler scene, I’m hoping this story will inspire a local plastics manufacturer to get busy so that us beer lovers can continue to support our local economy.
Plastic is cheaper. Growler University — which has been carrying these growlers since August 2014 — usually sells them for $5 each, but often runs promotions which allow them to be sold for only $1 a piece with a fill. Since Growler University’s standard glass growlers sell for $6 (with some fill stations or breweries charging more than that), plastic takes the award for most budget friendly.
A cool — literally — feature of some plastic growlers is the temporary “deformation” that occurs to make more room for pressure that builds up if the beer becomes too warm. Some manufacturers have created patented side gripper areas that will actually bulge out if the beer warms up to 50 degrees or more, letting you know it’s time to put the beer back in the fridge. The bottle will then return to its original shape when cooled back down again.
Plastic growlers can be taken anywhere glass is neither allowed nor desired: pools, rivers, beaches and parks, to name a few. Because, guess what? They don’t break when you drop them. I’ve had my fair share of customers, with an intense look of despair on their faces, hand over a dozen pieces of what used to be one glass growler after it fell out of the back of their truck on their way in to come get a refill.
With Oregon being such a “green” state, the mixed concerns about plastic’s effects on the environment or leaching chemicals are worth noting. I consider myself to be a bit of a tree hugger, so I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about plastic, but I’m pleased to note that if you choose a PET growler, it is not only BPA-free, but also fully recyclable. Additionally, plastic growlers weigh less than their glass counterparts, which can translate to fewer environmental impacts.
Plastic is more susceptible to scratches than glass. When it comes to bottling their latest homebrew, most brewers have no complaints about using plastic as long as it’s amber-colored and kept cool. However, when the plastic on the inside begins to get scratched or worn, that’s when dreaded bacteria can begin to thrive. It’s a big no-no for brewers and for you as a growler consumer; it will break down the quality of your beer and cause the container to hold on to flavors.
Plastic is not ideal for long-term storage because it is permeable to oxygen. If you’re planning on stashing that limited-release bourbon-barrel-aged stout in your fridge for longer than a week, a glass growler is going to be your best bet.
Conclusion & Tips
When I asked my customer about some common concerns beer drinkers seem to have about switching to plastic, I was only met with positive feedback. He said he wasn’t worried about any plastic taste passing on to his beer because, for some strange reason, the lovely liquid inside never seems to stay in the growler long enough for any “off” taste to transfer over.
My tips for plastic growler care are simple. Rinse them out with plain hot water and air-dry with the cap off, keep them out of direct sunlight, and don’t keep the same beer in there for more than a week. You can reuse plastic growlers just as you would a glass growler, but if it starts to get worn or scratched, don’t forget to recycle it. My final and most important tip for you: Enjoy what’s inside!
I’m not much of a betting woman, but if I were, I’d say plastic growlers are here to stay. I’ll admit: I was unsure at first about these new guys on the block. To be honest, they kind of reminded me of an industrial-sized cough syrup bottle or an iced tea jug. But, I’m really becoming a fan. From a server’s standpoint, they’re easier to handle, so I don’t have to worry about being klutzy. And from a consumer’s standpoint, as long as my pints of pumpkin peach ale still taste wonderful, that’s all I really care about at the end of the day.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.