At a brewpub, a reader of this blog asked to have his growler (a refillable, resealable container) filled with cask ale. "Sorry, we don't do that," was the response, although he was assured that the establishment would gladly fill his growler with draught beer, instead.
So, the reader asked me:
Why is it that you can't fill a growler with a cask ale? Will it lose most of the co2? Could brewpubs add a little primer and consumer let it condition a bit after taking it home?
I asked three brewers their opinions on the practice.
Jim Busch, an investor at Victory Brewing of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and an award-winning homebrewer.
As for cask ale and growlers, I think it ruins the taste to decarbonate what remains in solution. We dont fill them at the brewery for this reason. Our cask ales are made just like they do at Fullers. We rack youngish beer prior to spunding into cooperage - both straight sided sankeys and also firkins, and allow final conditioning in the cask.
Chris Rafferty of Rock Bottom Brewpub in Arlington, Virginia, is willing to fill growlers with cask ale, but only after advising his customers:
We will fill growlers with cask ale, but only after the guest has been fairly warned that the sparkle, and soft effervescence, that one experiences from a hand drawn ale, will be a lost effect when the growler is decanted. We have guests who are so appreciative of the cask flavor that the extra-low conditioning is not an issue.
Also responding against the practice was Bill Madden of Vintage 50, a brewpub/restaurant in Leesburg, Virginia:
For various reasons, I do not fill cask ale into growlers.
The number one reason is that cask ale will not present itself the same way from a growler as it would from a hand pump. The hand pump agitates the beer and allows air to become a part of the 'living' beer; this would later become an oxidized beer and not a pleasant experience.
The second reason is that cask ale is precious and it is created by hand filling casks and charging them with either fermenting beer or priming sugars to create a secondary fermentation in the cask. The beer is also fined for clarity and then it is conditioned so that it will be served in its prime.
All this handling to create a positive experience for the drinker could be ruined once it has left the bar in a growler. So why after all this work would we allow someone to take it away in a growler to possibly reflect poorly all that has been done.
The strong opinion and practice of these brewers —and mine— is that cask-conditioned ale (and lager) if removed from its natural environment will lose that which is its defining characteristic: freshness. It would be like going to a fine restaurant and taking the entire meal home.
Leaving no doubt, Madden concluded:
Not on my watch!
- Follow Madden at his Madd Brewer's Blog. UPDATE: Since this post was written, he has opened his brewpub, mad Fox Brewing, in Falls Church, Virginia.
- Here in Virginia, the statute has been recently amended to allow non-brewpub bars, with the proper accreditation, to fill growlers from their taps. Not all states or jurisdictions allow bars to do so, or even brewpubs.