07 Nov 2011 @ 7:24 PM 
 

In Defense of Growlers

 

I’m a little late off the mark on this, since the article that I’m responding to was actually written days ago, and really had a fair amount of buzz over the weekend. Still, since through some fluke of internettery or bad programming I’m unable to post my feelings in the comments of article, you get to read my thoughts here.

This is in response to the article posted on Bon Appetit‘s website named (le sigh) Why Beer Growlers are Bad for your Brew

The first thing I’d like to point out is that the URL to the article is actually “Garrett Oliver Thinks Growlers…” and I bet the next work is “Suck”, but that apparently didn’t meet the “sweeping generalization in order to get as many eyes as possible” criteria. Good job. It worked. I wish it wouldn’t have.

It’s raised a bit of ire around beer blogs and on Beer Advocate, and one of the commenters on the article itself poses the interesting question of “Why would anyone ever be so emotionally committed to growlers that it would ever induce such outrage?”

I can’t say it’s outrage, but it definitely makes me feel a bit.. well.. exasperated. Garrett Oliver really did write the book on beer. Well… he edited it, anyway, despite numerous errors, and his opinion carries weight, even when it seems like a quick one-off bullshit answer to some guy who he’s drinking with. Because after you’ve written the book on beer, your slightest opinions get repeated like this:

“Oh, well, Garrett Oliver says [poorly translated version of what Garrett Oliver actually said taken immediately as the holy fucking gospel].”

It’s especially bad when it’s repeated by a magazine like Bon Appetit, even if it is a bullshit one-off name-dropping blog post by some guy who was probably just desperate to meet an editing deadline, because people who trust Bon Appetit (who are likely people who buy good, craft beer) are likely to come away with:

“Oh, well, I read in Bon Appetit that Garrett Oliver says [something incredibly inaccurate which will be taken as an unbreakable law that only a basilisk's tooth dipped in unicorn tears could possibly destroy].”

So, let’s hear it for journalistic integrity on the internet in 2011!

(crickets)

I can tell you why people would get emotional about it – for some small breweries, growlers can be a life saver. Packaging lines (bottles, cans) are expensive, and growlers can be a great way for new and/or small breweries to get product into locations, like grocery stores, or maybe even people’s homes, in a way that kegs just can’t do on a large scale basis. It’s not emotional, it’s defensive.

At Mystery, we’re counting on growler sales to help us through our startup, and I’m hoping that they constitute a large portion of our sales. That said, we’re planning using a counter-pressure growler filler to make sure that they’re packaged correctly instead of urinating directly into each one, as Garrett Oliver would have Andrew Knowlton have you believe. And I would never, EVER fill a dirty growler. Dirty growlers should be traded out for clean ones. I have the tools to clean growlers in ways that most people do not in their homes, and ultimately, I am represented best by giving you excellent beer.

But to address a big issue in the article of “the pros hate growlers”. Ugh. Are growlers ideal ways to package beer? No. But I don’t hate them.

Here’s what I hate: I hate it when bottle shops have beer sitting warm on shelves. I hate it when they have beer sitting near fluorescent lights. I hate it when they don’t pull beer off of the shelves after 90 days. I hate it when bars don’t clean their tap lines, or when they serve beer in frosted mugs, or shove a faucet into a beer while it’s being poured, or don’t give me a new glass when I order a new beer. I hate it when bars don’t have dishwashers that get hot enough to clean lipstick off of glassware, or wash their glassware in the same dishwasher as their food dishes.

All of those things can have a detrimental effect on the flavor and presentation of a beer and all of those are way, way, WAY more common than someone filling a dirty growler or filling one so incorrectly that the consumer will notice a difference, assuming they consume it while it’s still fresh.

But I can’t control those other things. I can, as a brewer, control the quality of the growlers that leave my establishment. I can make sure they’re clean and they’re filled properly – just like any packaging brewer would do for ANY packaged beer product.

I’d like to see an actual well-researched, well-considered followup article by Bon Appetit about this, but I’m sure it just won’t happen.

This piece of pseudo-journalism will go on misinforming in droves. It might seem silly, but these little one-off things coming from a source that people trust can be very damaging to small businesses. It’s already being repeated, and all it takes is one more journalist who doesn’t know how to research (which I’m starting to believe is most of them) to make this opinion law by referencing it in some wider reaching periodical.

Come on Bon Appetit, do what’s right and fix your crappy journalism by actually doing some work on the story. I’m issuing you a challenge. Write a good story on beer packaging. Your readership deserves it.

 

Responses to this post » (12 Total)

 
  1. Maureen Ogle says:

    And I hope you issued the challenge by writing a letter to the editor of Bon Appetit.

    Because you’re right, of course: This kind of crap journalism (of course it’s not really “journalism” but a hired gun filling a word count so as to fill the magazine’s pages) happens all the time about stuff large and small. And the only way to live with it is to fight back. Occupy Bon Appetit!

    (You really SHOULD write the letter. Heck, all you have to do is copy/paste your blog entry!)

  2. VncentLIFE says:

    I love your list of things that you hate. I agree totally. I would add that I hate when bars pour a beer into a glass that isnt dry yet. I hate when bartenders pour to big of a head, then pour off the head.

  3. I enjoy your writing style, sir. Keep it up.

  4. Greg says:

    Excellent points. It’s interesting that your feelings on growlers and cans – both of which suffer from similar flaws as packaging – are different, but connected in the sense that it clearly comes down to a brewer’s ability to control quality.

    Lost in the discussion is the responsibility of beer drinkers to be informed. Any decent beer drinker I’ve ever met is aware that a growler’s reliability dramatically decreases after an hour, and that clear growlers are just a bad scene. Due to all of the variables you list, there are a decent number of risks consumers take in buying craft beer, and at some level it’s up to us to make those risks calculated, rather than expecting brewers and retailers to magically eliminate them for us.

  5. erik says:

    Greg –

    Good catch. I’m not necessarily saying that cans are evil or anything, but I don’t buy that they are the absolute best packaging for beer any more than I think that growlers are the worst possible packaging for beer.

    It all really does come down to level of control. What I’m concerned about with cans is that brewers somehow think of them as infallible (it’s certainly the press that they get) when in reality they suffer the same issues as any other packaging and need the same level of care.

    • Greg says:

      Makes perfect sense. You can control the quality of an individual growler better than you can each individual can, unless you can afford some crazy custom canning line like New Belgium’s.

      Question: Will you fill other institutions’ growlers? What about clear ones?

      • erik says:

        Yes – in NC we’re allowed to fill other people’s growlers, providing that we have a sticker that goes on the growler that denotes what is *currently* inside the package.

        Clear ones: Ugh. I mean, yes. If you bring me a clean, clear growler I’ll fill it, but I’ll also let you know that you need to take special care of it. I have clear growlers at home that I’ve gotten from other breweries, and I know better than to let it skunk. They’re not inherently awful if you know how take care of them, but that part of it is really up to the consumer. I can fill it with good, fresh beer, but YOU have to make sure it stays that way.

    • Sara says:

      Enjoying an afternoon Kombucha I’ve been trinyg to drink a little every evening and morning, but it takes a little of the fun out of it to have to drink it at a certain time now I think I will just drink it whenever I feel like a need a little treat. Just filled up my growler yesterday with pomegranate love it!

  6. Very well said. I happen to like growlers. They’re convenient, and they let me enjoy great local brews at my own home. They have drawbacks, but I don’t really care. One drawback is that you have to drink it quickly – which really isn’t too much of a problem for me. ;)

  7. George says:

    Thanks! That article is obviously nonsense. I love growlers, and I’m currently collecting them (with beer in them, of course, although that is quickly consumed). When I went to California and Oregon last summer, I got as many as I could and shipped the empties back home for the collection.

    Sure they aren’t infallible… but what is? Your list of other issues with beer serving and presentation are a great counterpoint.

    Anyway, I’m excited to visit you guys soon and hope to make it to a book signing, probably the one at Foothills since I live in Winston.

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