Though the stereotypes from 20 years ago suggest otherwise, these days the United States is one of the world’s most exciting beer countries. In lieu of the legions of watery light lagers that the US were once known for, American beer today is richly varied and accomplished. It doesn’t hurt that the country’s number of breweries has skyrocketed from under 100 to nearly 2,500 in the space of two decades. Those looking for a taste of the phenomenon should sample craft beer in New York – the Big Apple is one of the leading lights in the craft beer movement, which prizes independence, high-quality ingredients and innovation over the bottom line.
New Yorkers love their beer. When they’re not camped out at Brooklyn Brewery on the weekends, touring the brewing facilities while sampling heartily from the on-site bar, they’re combing the city’s many bottle shops and pour houses in search of that hot new craft brew. And they’re drinking New York craft beer in all different ways: whether it’s pints at the bar, bottles on the rooftop, or growlers at the picnic, beer is a ubiquitous part of most people’s social routines.
But hang on – what’s a growler? Though it might sound like a particularly threatening species of local animal, it’s actually one of the city’s favourite methods of transporting and consuming beer. A growler is a roughly two-litre glass container, which is reusable and made for holding beer, straight from the tap or tank. In addition to being environmentally friendly, it’s also a great way to enjoy beer the way it’s meant to be drunk: fresh, and with minimal outside intervention.
Growlers have a long history in New York. Back in the 19th century, bottling and canning was in its infancy. If you wanted to drink, you did so at a tavern. That was all well and good for afternoons and evenings out, but less ideal for those hoping for a take-away option. Enter: the growler. In those days, the technology was less refined. Growlers consisted of metal pails that were slopped out of side windows and toted away for at-home or lunchtime drinking. And the bizarre name? The story goes that day labourers would pay neighbourhood kids a few cents to run and grab a bucket of beer for them whilst on their lunch breaks, a process that came to be called “running the growler” because of the workers’ rumbling stomachs.
Luckily, growlers have evolved past the metal pail variety, and these days the glass containers can be found at legions of bars, beer shops, and breweries. The typical growler has a screw-on lid and keeps beer fresh before opening for two to three days, while more advanced growlers – including vacuum-sealed systems – can store fresh tap beer for upwards of half a year. Whether you’re looking to cherish that favourite seasonal style, or simply seeking an effective way to transport fresh beer to a dinner party, the growler is the solution.
New York’s home to a number of excellent bottle shops that curate stocks of beer that run hundreds, or even thousands, deep. These shops can be some of the best places to go for growler fills of fresh, seasonal craft beer in New York. Breukelen Bier Merchants in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn offers 16 different beers on tap at any given time, many of which skew towards the seasonal. The bartenders there are equally happy to fill a growler as they are to pour a pint. Good Beer in Manhattan’s East Village is another excellent beer filling station. Founded by David Cichowicz, an ex-publishing industry veteran, the bottle shop stocks hundreds of craft beers and also maintains 12 rotating draught lines of American brews.
What about the times when you go to a bar, try a delicious brew, and wish you could take more home with you to enjoy later? Happily for New York denizens, a number of the city’s top craft beer bars allow for take-away growler options. Sycamore, a quirky combination flower shop and bar in Brooklyn’s Flatbush-Ditmas Park neighbourhood, offers a curated selection of eight brews that can be taken to go. Pony Bar, a bar that has outposts in Hells Kitchen and the Upper East Side, pours 20 all-American craft beer at a time for $5 a pint. If you discover something fab while imbibing, it also sells branded growlers that can be filled with whatever’s fresh on tap.
For the real beer geeks, there are also a few beer specialty stores that offer advanced growler technology. Bierkraft in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is a favourite among New York craft beer drinkers for its wide-ranging array of bottles, homemade sandwiches (some of the city’s best) and, most importantly, its 16 taps. They use a counter-pressure fill system, which forces oxygen out and carbon dioxide into a growler before beer is added, a method that helps keep suds fresh for longer. Growler Station in the West Village has the most advanced system of all: using futuristic air-tight fillers, the store ensures its growler pours stay fresh for up to six months.
The options are abundant for growler fills of craft beer in New York – these days, the trend’s become so ubiquitous that growlers are being filled everywhere, from drug stores to groceries. Next time you’re in the city, order your beer to go.
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