You take your beer growler to your favorite breweries in Flagstaff, but do you know your growler history? The history of the growler is a great story to tell your friends over a round of brews on the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail, so pop open a Flagstaff beer and read on.
Let’s go back to the late 1800s. Before bottled beer became an economically savvy practice, drinking beer outside of the saloon was carried out in a growler. Back then, a growler was usually a bucket of beer, but growlers were also pitchers, pottery, and glass jugs–anything that brought the brew back to the dinner table.
The most common growler: a 2-quart galvanized or enameled pail. In other words, a tin bucket. But this growler could hold at least 4 glasses of beer. Unfortunately for our ancestors, their beer-serving glasses were smaller than modern-day pint glasses. Tin buckets weren’t advertised as growlers but were suggested for such use. Then again, the same advertisements said to also use these tin buckets as water pails and berry buckets.
Saloons weren’t the only ones cashing in on this trade. Adults paid the neighborhood children to “rush the growler,” or fill their empty buckets at the saloon and bring it back to their office or home. These children were called “bucket boys” or “bucket girls.” Stronger children carried as many as 5 growlers on notched poles between destinations for higher earnings.
The price to fill up a growler by the early 20th century was 5-15 cents, hence the term “nickel beer.” This price guaranteed a pint of beer, but many bartenders filled up the growler to at least a quart. What about the extra quart of space? For the huge beer head, of course!
So, why is it called a growler? The most popular tale is that the beer growls when sloshing around the tin bucket as CO2 escaped between the lid cracks. Another rumored origin brings us back to the saloon. Not all bartenders filled the 2-quart bucket past the pint price. This angered customers who wanted a filled pail. Let’s just say that there was a lot of “growling” between both customer and bartender.
Not everyone was happy about the “bucket trade.” During the decades leading up to Prohibition, anti-alcohol fighters rallied for laws to be passed against filling up growlers. By 1915, 24 cities prohibited the growler trade, not to mention dozens of other communities that restricted growler use including bucket boys and girls filling up growlers. Here’s the jaw-dropper: these laws got support from many saloon owners and brewers.
Then came the laws about not serving alcohol on Sunday. This led to the invention of a concealable growler–the duck: a flask-like container that had a lid and a hook to make it easier to hide underneath the underarm of a coat when rushing the growler. Sneaky, huh?
The growler evolved in the 50s and 60s to what resembled a take-out Chinese soup container. By the late 60s, many bars switched to plastic and were allowed to sell packaged beer after hours. The popularity of the growler greatly diminished.
But this isn’t where the history of the growler ends. In the late 80s, the Otto Brothers’ Brewing Company (now Grand Teton Brewing) was in a predicament. Customers wanted to buy beer to go but the brothers weren’t in a position to bottle their brews. Charlie Otto came up with the solution: let customers purchase logo-silkscreened half-gallon glass bottles filled with draught brew. The modern growler was born!
That concludes our story of the history of the growler. Make sure to tell this tale to your pals at your favorite Flagstaff breweries along the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail. If they don’t believe you, just send them to this blog post.