To me, there is no better way to savor a craft beer than straight from the tap. That said, I have two young kids at home and limited babysitting resources, meaning that the hubs and I just don't make it out to the bar all that often. Thankfully, growlers have grown in popularity and given us a way to experience from-the-tap freshness with at-home convenience.

It typically works like this (though different merchants may have different policies): You buy the vessel either from the merchant or from a third-party source—most often amber-colored glass, but also stainless steel or ceramic, something to prevent light from damaging the brew—and use and reuse the same container, getting it refilled from a participating brewery or merchant. Many folks like the big 64-ounce half-gallon jugs, but I prefer keeping two or three smaller 32-ounce jugs on hand (I don't like committing to that much of one thing, and there's no guarantee that we'll finish the big jug before it goes flat). Here are some tips to make the most of your growler purchases:

  • Keep it cold. You're getting beer poured into your growler from the tap; it starts off chilled and needs to stay chilled.
  • Keep it sealed until you're ready to drink. A sealed growler will keep beer fresh up to 10 to 14 days. Once opened, you need to drink up within a day or two.
  • Keep it clean. You are responsible for keeping the jug clean; if it smells funky, the merchant may refuse to refill it and require you to buy a new jug. The easiest way to keep things clean is to rinse the jug out with hot water several times immediately after emptying it; really swirl the water around to rinse out all the beer. If you failed to rinse it out immediately, rinse the growler with hot soapy water, and then thoroughly rinse until there's no soap residue. If there are any traces of soap left in the growler, they'll make your next beer purchase taste soapy (or worse).
  • Dry it thoroughly. Set the growler upside down in your dish rack, and allow it to air dry until no moisture remains. Do not replace the cap; if there is any moisture in there, you want it to evaporate.
  • Refill and repeat. Return your clean growlers to the merchant for refilling; they'll probably get dunked in a sanitizing solution before refilling. Try something new, or limited edition, or seasonal. And enjoy!