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Three Pint Stance - A Growler Mantra: Clean, cold and fresh

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(Editor’s note: Since Tim is still recovering from his recent wedding and honeymoon, please enjoy this reprinted column that first appeared in the Aug. 31, 2016 edition of The Maine Edge.)

The best way to drink beer is to go right to the source. Visiting a brewery is a great way to get to know more about your beer, have a fresh pint and bring some home to enjoy later. While a lot of breweries offer standard bottles and cans at their tasting rooms, you might find yourself putting down a deposit for a big jug called a growler.

Growlers are refillable containers that are filled right from the tap at your local brewery. They come in 64 and 32 oz. (usually called howlers) sizes. Most breweries charge a deposit for their growlers/howlers which allows you to return the bottle for a refund - as long as it is clean and usable.

The keys to growler success are simple but vital. Repeat after me. Clean, cold and fresh. Clean, cold and fresh. This is the mantra that will guide you to growler nirvana.

Clean

This is the most important key to having a good time with your growler. As a rule, anything that comes in contact with your beer from the day it's made to the moment it hits your lips should be impeccably clean. Brewers go to great lengths to make sure your beer is brewed, fermented and packaged in clean and sanitized vessels from start to finish. There is nothing worse than when a growler comes back to the brewery with the remnants of the last fill still in the bottom of the bottle. If you are going to have a growler filled, be sure to keep it clean.

For me, the key to a clean growler is to rinse it out with hot tap water as soon as you finish the last pint. Don't let it sit until the morning, just rinse it out right then. Put a bit of soap and some hot water into the growler and give it a shake. Make sure you rinse the soap out really well and set the growler to dry. If you have a disposable cap, go ahead and toss it out/recycle it at this point but don't put it back on the growler. Leaving the cap off will allow the freshly cleaned growler to dry completely, so no science experiments can start in the trapped moisture. Most breweries will rinse it out before filling, so don't worry if a little bit of dust gets in the bottle between its last use and the next fill.

Cold

This one is simple: always keep your growler cold. Beer poured into a growler is a fresh product. Fresh beer should always be stored cold until it is ready to drink. This helps to maintain the stability of both the flavors and the carbonation level of the beer.

When beer warms up, the CO2 that is dissolved in the liquid comes out of solution and will try to escape the bottle. Moreover, the screw cap of most standard growlers isn't designed to maintain the carbonation for an extended period of time. A full growler will maintain its carbonation for at least a week in the fridge (if you want to push it, you can go as far as two weeks).

Fresh

For the above mentioned reasons, growlers should always be consumed ASAP. Draft beer systems are designed to deliver product that is meant to be drunk immediately, so the growler just isn't designed to last as long as a commercial bottle or can of beer. As your growler is being filled at the tap, it is being introduced to oxygen which will always impact freshness. Even with a CO2 purge before filling, the beer in the growler has been at least minimally exposed to the environment and should be consumed as soon as possible.

Some of the new stainless steel growlers feature air-tight caps that extend the lifespan of the fresh beer within, but I would still err on the side of caution when it comes to storing a growler for over a week.

So, keep it clean, cold and fresh. And remember, a happy growler is a growler that is used often!

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