Contain yourself

Portable beer options promote community, sustainability

By Hayley Fudge

Photo: Fresh and portable, reusable growlers offer consumers flexible drinking options and reduce the amount of beer packaging waste

In the not-too-distant past, you either drank your beer at the bar, or you grabbed a six-pack at a retail establishment to take with you. Options for taking the same beloved draft beer you drink on tap home to enjoy or to a gathering to share were nonexistent. That’s not the case anymore.

These days, breweries and retail establishments enjoy significant sales revenue boosts because of their ability to sell freshly tapped beer directly to consumers in portable to-go containers, increasing their reach and brand loyalty. It also gives consumers the opportunity to “try before you buy,” typically resulting in a more positive experience from brewer/retailer to consumer.

Jeff Heater, co-founder of Dayton’s independently owned and operated bar and bottle shop The Barrel House, estimates that about 10 percent of that establishment’s draft beer sales are from howler and growler fills from its 17 taps.

The 64 oz. growler and its descendants, the 32 oz. howler or more recently available aluminum can “crowler,” have a significant impact on a rapidly growing industry. In addition to the convenience of making beer consumption more portable, it is estimated that the use of reusable growlers could keep up to 225,000 bottles and cans out of landfills each year.

“Beyond their inherent sustainability, growlers are the most communal way to consume and share craft beer,” says Joe Alton, editor-in-chief ofGrowler Magazine, a Minnesota-based craft beer lifestyle magazine focusing on beer and the community and culture surrounding it. “There’s just something very charming about bringing a growler into a local brewery and walking out with fresh, locally made beer to share with friends and family.”

But how did the modern-day growler come to be, and how has it evolved?

In 1988, a couple of brothers by the names of Charlie and Ernie Otto founded the Otto Brothers Brewing Company. They are credited with the resurgence of what was then a long-forgotten container, which was a European-lidded tin pail known as a “growler.”

In their quest to come up with a way to offer their fresh, locally produced beer from their small brew house in Wilson, Wyoming, the Otto brothers purchased a small silk-screening device for labeling and reintroduced the growler in the form of a 64 oz. glass jug. Their belief that preservative-free, fresh beer would be successful in the marketplace and served in other establishments has paved the way to the way we drink and share beer today. That brewery is known today as Grand Teton Brewing Company, located just outside Teton National Park and across the Wyoming border in Victor, Idaho.

“Charlie was one of the pioneers of craft beer, and he earned the recognition of his peers for his work, particularly with the growler,” says Rob Mullin, brewmaster and chief operating officer of Grand Teton Brewing Company, who spent his childhood holidays visiting family in Dayton. “It wasn’t just the idea. He had to convince federal and state regulators that it was OK to sell beer that way (in a reusable container without “proper” labeling). Now many of Charlie’s generation are retiring and the growler is taken for granted. It’s just something that’s always been there for the new cohort of brewers.”

But simply filling a glass jug is not quite as artless as it sounds. Each state has its own sets of laws pertaining to draft beer packaged for off-premise consumption. In the Ohio Revised Code, growler sales are permitted under brewery, brewpub and retail establishment licenses. They must be in a glass container with a capacity of not more than 128 fluid ounces (one gallon).

According to Adam Armstrong of Ohio Beer Counsel (a practice group of the Dayton-based law firm Freund, Freeze & Arnold), Ohio law also prohibits retail permit holders authorized to sell beer by the glass for on-premises consumption from refilling “any bottle that formerly contained alcoholic beverages.” The good news for growler fans is that the state also distinguishes a bottle from a glass container.

But there is still a gray area for consumers around how that all works with the state’s open container laws. There are a few things that all parties involved should understand. First, glass containers must be cleaned immediately before being filled. Secondly, glass containers must be securely resealed by the permit holder in such a manner that it is visibly apparent if the bottle has been opened or tampered with. And lastly, glass containers must be stored in your trunk. If your car has no trunk, behind the last upright seat or in an area not normally occupied by the driver or passengers. It must be in an area not easily accessible by the driver.

Today’s portable beer container options continue to expand. From 32 oz. aluminum cans to stainless steel jugs and eco-friendly beer bags, the ability to take beer on the go has been fine-tuned even further to accompany the varying consumer lifestyles. But they aren’t all equal in terms of their benefits of reducing the craft-beer industry’s carbon footprint.

“There will be many new and varied containers (such as the crowler), but in my experience craft breweries tend to be environmentally minded businesses, and my suspicion is that there will continue to be a demand for vessels—and practices—that are intended to minimize impact on the environment,” Alton says. “Both cans and glass have their respective advantages and disadvantages in terms of environmental impact. As the relatively young industry that is craft beer matures, so too will our understanding of the environmental impact of beer and beer packaging.”

And that’s something to which we can all raise a glass.

Hayley Fudge is one of Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geeks. An enthusiast of craft beer and the culture that surrounds it, Hayley aspires to share her love of beer with others by whipping up beer-infused cupcakes on the regular. Reach Hayley Fudge at

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Hayley Fudge is one of Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geeks. An enthusiast of craft beer and the culture that surrounds it, Hayley aspires to share her love of beer with others by whipping up beer-infused cupcakes on the regular. Reach Hayley Fudge at

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