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Photo Courtesy of Orange Vessel

When visiting a local brewery, there’s a number of ways to take your favorite beer home.  The most popular has long been bottles and cans or, for larger quantities, kegs but that trends has shifted recently, with growlers and crowlers proving to be the best short-term option for enjoying hyper-fresh beer.

With so many options, it can be difficult to know which container is the best for future beer consumption and it’s a question that gets asked again and again at breweries all across the United States.  Let’s start with the old, reliable one-use bottle. Used since well before your parents were born, glass bottles and beer go together hand-in-hand and if you’ve found that special brew to take home for later, just know that these transparent containers can significantly impact what’s inside.  

Light is beer’s sworn enemy and it can seriously deteriorate the flavor, even over a short period of time.  If you’re going to drink it in a couple of weeks, no big deal, just shove it in the refrigerator, but if the contents are for an upcoming occasion, store it in an area with little UV light and it should last up to about six months, unless it’s an aged beer, because those can last much longer and cultivate more flavor.  Always check the label or do a little homework, since beers that aren’t hyper-fresh, such as stouts, are often able to be set aside for months or years on end and won’t lose any flavor.  

Cans, on the other hand, block out that pesky UV light, proving to be a better one-use option, which might just be a significant factor in the recent boom in can usage by breweries thriving on freshness.  These too will last for several months, though as we all know, there’s a much higher risk of agitation affecting what’s inside. A crowler is a lot like an aluminum can, typically available in 32 ounces, holding a smaller amount than the growler, the often 64-ounce contemporary that’s typically made of glass or stainless steel – but more on that in a second.  Crowlers are perfect for taking home a specialty offering that might not have been released in bottles or cans but while it looks like a monster beer can, don’t be fooled. It’s packaged in a different way from the typical aluminum cans breweries use and the top is pressed on by a machine, so the beer only lasts about three days. That obviously can vary depending on the beer, as sometimes it can last for months with no issues.  Make sure you store it cold. Just like bottles and cans, once you’ve consumed the entire crowler, throw it into the recycle.

Unlike some of the other options mentioned, growlers are reusable.

Typically available in 32 or 64-ounce jugs with screw-on or airtight caps, growlers are often for sale at most breweries and contain their specific logo, because it’s essentially free advertising if drinkers take it somewhere else.  Plus, sometimes you’ll get a percentage off each fill at that establishment – worth it. Even some gastro pubs, which have crowlers available, will carry growlers. If you’re looking to entertain and want a few fresh-from-the-tap beers, it’s your best option.  These jugs normally store beer for three to four days, after that carbonation and flavor suffers immensely, though it really varies on a case-by-case basis, depending on the specifics of the crowler you’ve purchased. And while it might seem like a good idea to open the growler, pour a glass, close it, and save some for a day or two later, the pressure escapes and it’ll get flat – once it’s open, drink it.

Since most growlers aren’t pressure rated, because it would burst if over-pressurized, the beer needs to be stored in a cool, dark area.  If the beer gets too warm, like if it’s left in a car on a summer day for example, it could potentially burst, which runs the risk of glass and beer everywhere.  

There’s one significant setback to the growler: cleaning it.  Since it’s reusable, cleaning it is extremely important but it can also be an extreme pain, depending on the shape.  Sometimes breweries and bars will rinse it before filling but make sure you properly clean it with soap and water after use, or there’s the risk of future contamination and it affecting your next beer – not to mention, germs.  Growlers definitely have to be a little more thought-out, as opposed to the other options which can be crushed easily in one sitting or stored for a lengthy period of time prior to consumption.

And then there’s kegs, something most are familiar with, especially if you’ve worked at a bar.  At this point, it shouldn’t be much of a secret of the dos and don’ts when it comes to a keg but if you’re taking one home for Sunday’s tailgate or a trip up the mountains, there are a few things you should know.  Don’t pick up the keg on the day of consumption, since all of the potential movement involved with getting it into the vehicle and transporting will lead to tons of foam. Also, don’t leave it outside in the warm – make sure there’s plenty of ice to keep the whole thing cold.  If not, like the growler, the beer will expand and it’ll lead to a majority of foam. And don’t over-pump after tapping the keg. It’s something many are guilty of doing and all it really does is create more foam. If it happens, just release some of the pressure and it should be fine.

Now that you’ve been given the information on each of the various containers, it’s up to you to decide which is perfect for you in any given situation.  These containers come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials, with some lasting for weeks or months and other just lasting days but don’t fret over it, especially given all of life’s other decisions that need to be made each and every week.