Return to Growler (thing)
So I would rush Spider, or Irish, or Scotty, or whoever was my crew, with the can for beer and the demijohn for red wine. And again, lying at the wharf disposing of my oysters, there were dusky twilights when big policemen and plain-clothes men stole on board. And because we lived in the shadow of the police, we opened oysters and fed them to them with squirts of pepper sauce, and rushed the growler or got stronger stuff in bottles.
Now that the literary reference is out of the way, let's jump straight to the definition. A growler is a half gallon of ale, no more, no less.
In the good old days, before the 18th Amendment, you could either drink your beer at the saloon, or send your kids with a bucket (growler), which could be filled for a nickel. The pail held, more or less, a half gallon. Between the difficulties of bottling, and the tax regulations at the time, grabbing a pailful of ale was significantly cheaper that grabbing a bottle.
Bottled beer cost 10 to 15 cents a bottle, and was considered inferior to the bubbly freshness drawn straight from the local pub."Rushing the growler," repeated trips to the local bar with your growler pail, was a popular past-time.
Why "growler"? One hypothesis is that the beer's gasses escaping through the pail's lid made a growling sound. Sounds like a stretch. Some things will never be known.
Growler technology has come a long way from the days of sending your child to the bar. Oxidation is the enemy of a good ale; if you are lugging your beer about in a pail, you need to drink it in a hurry. The contemporary growler is a far cry from the foamy bucket of old.
The growler has long been adopted as the container for beer-to-go by microbreweries, brewpubs and bars across North America, but the growler's ability to maintain freshness for any length of time has always been a detracting issue with this type of repackaging.
With the explosion of microbreweries in the 1990's (combined with laws prohibiting the consumption of ale on the premises), a method of cheaply getting the beer from the keg to the konsumer was essential to the survival of the tiny brewery--automated bottling is expensive.
With growlers, customers can come in and grab a half gallon in a convenient package. A growler (64 ounces) is about the same amount of beer in a little over 5 bottles of beer (60 ounces), a perfect amount for two to share under the moonlight.
Perhaps some perspective is in order. The smallest unit of beer is the "nip", a mere 6 ounces. The standard bottle (12 ounces) follows, then the 22 ounce. Americans have glamorized the 40 ounce bottle, associated with malt liquors (pour the last few drops for friends gone by). A six pack holds 72 ounces. The growler falls between a forty and a six.
(Beyond the six pack are the party sizes--a party ball holds 5 gallons, a half keg holds 992 ounces, a keg 1984 ounces (or 58.7 liters). A keg is the same as a half barrel; a whole barrel holds 31 gallons, or 3968 ounces, or 107 or so liters. Burp!)