Your Growler Gets Gross. Here's How to Clean It | Wine Enthusiast
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Your Growler Gets Gross. Here’s How to Clean It

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Growlers are a great way to transport and drink beer straight from the tap. But, like anything that comes in contact with your alcohol, it’s important that it stays clean.

To ensure that you’re ready for your next brewery excursion, beer experts around the country weigh in on how to keep your growler clean.

Taps at Lavery Brewing Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania
Taps at Lavery Brewing Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania / Photo by Menajerie Studio

Signs your growler is gross

One telltale indicator that your growler could use a rinse is when “you open up the lid and it pops,” says Jason Lavery, president and founder of Lavery Brewing Company in Erie, Pennsylvania. “You can tell that there was residual beer that may have pressurized the vessel a little bit.”

The Erie brewery got its liquor license in 2010, and its customers can fill growlers with Lavery’s IPAs, ales and more. Since the onset of the novel coronavirus, the brewer will not only rinse a customer’s growler, but they also sanitize it.

You can fill your growler with what's on tap at Rock Cut Brewing
You can fill your growler with what’s on tap at Rock Cut Brewing / Photo courtesy of Rock Cut Brewing

“Growlers are usually dark glass,” says Lavery. “So, it’s hard to really see inside if they’re clean, [but] it’s pretty easy to tell by the exterior how clean the interior is.”

Joy Reichenbach, a Certified Cicerone and head of operations and interim tap room manager at Talea Beer Co. in Brooklyn, New York, also agrees hearing a “pop” isn’t a great sign of a growler’s cleanliness. She has also “always been taught it’s best practice to give a growler a sniff, which is probably something that’s not happening as much in Covid times.”

Growlers at Lavery Brewing Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania
Growlers at Lavery Brewing Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania / Photo by Menajerie Studio

“There can be a unique smell if it hasn’t been properly cleaned,” says Alisa Bowens-Mercado, founder and owner of Rhythm Brewing Co. in New Haven, Connecticut, which makes unfiltered lagers.

When you make beer at more than 7,000 feet above sea level, a “pop” doesn’t necessarily indicate the growler is dirty. Instead, it might happen due to altitude or temperature changes according to Matt Heiser, founder and co-owner of Rock Cut Brewing in Estes Park, Colorado.

But when customers fill up growlers with Rock Cut’s IPAs, stouts or lagers, they can tell by smell and outward appearance whether it has been cleaned.

Founder of Rhythm & Brewing Co., Alisa Bowens-Mercado
Founder of Rhythm Brewing Co., Alisa Bowens-Mercado / Photo by Winter Caplanson

How to clean your growler

There are different ways to clean your growler. But it’s best to rinse out your growler with warm or hot water as soon as you’re done using it. You can also fill it, let it soak for a few minutes and rinse it out a couple of times, according to Reichenbach.

Once done rinsing, “you got to let that thing air dry,” says Bowens-Mercado. “Preferably upside down.”

Heiser warns against the use of dish soap, as it can impart unwanted residue and odors.

“So basically, the way that you can think about it is if your growler has any sort of scent inside, whether that be old beer or soap, that’s what the next beer is going to taste like that you put in there,” says Reichenbach.

Lavery and Bowens-Mercado say some soap is okay as long as you rinse out the growler immediately. Bowens-Mercado goes back to “what my grandmothers always taught me. Hot water and soap will do the trick all the time.”

Growlers lined up at Rock Cut Brewing in Estes, Colorado
Growlers lined up at Rock Cut Brewing in Estes, Colorado / Photo courtesy of Rock Cut Brewing

“Clean it after emptying it,” says Lavery. “That’s what I do when I drink beer out of growlers. As soon as they are empty, just rinse it and put a little drop of dish soap in there, hot water and shake it and then rinse it very, very thoroughly. Just make sure all the dish soap gets out because dish soap can kill the beer.”

Hazy beers may have more proteins in them, says Lavery, which can lead to residue buildup. If you aren’t able to clean your growler right away, Heiser recommends filling it with hot water and let it soak for the night. The next day, pour out half of the water, give it another good shake and then empty it, he says.

If you’re concerned that’s not enough, Heiser also says you can purchase PBW tablets, which can further help break up left-behind silt. You can also use a soft-bristle brush to scrub the inside as well.

Talea Beer Co.'s taps in Brooklyn, NY
Talea Beer Co.’s taps in Brooklyn, NY / Photo courtesy of Talea Beer Co.

How to store your growler

It’s important to make sure your growler is dry before you store it.

“The most important thing after that is to not put the cap back on it,” says Reichenbach. “So, what I like to do is kind of place the cap a little sideways on it so it covers it, so no dust or debris will get in, but it leaves it open so that the growler can dry out. Because that’s kind of what will keep the bacteria from growing in there.”

If you keep your growler in your car, Heiser recommends keeping it sealed, as it can pick up unwanted odors from exhaust. He says to rinse it every couple of weeks.

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