I’ve spent a few fun days in the last few weeks tearing around like a madwoman, filling my car up with growlers, and escorting them home for some super-awesome rare and local drinking.
Growlers are half-gallon bottles of beer that you buy directly from a microbrewer or brewpub. Once filled, the bottles are all yours, ready to be taken home or to a friend’s house to share in the joy of drinking handmade, unpasteurized, unfiltered, good, healthy, often all-natural brew-pub beer.
If you’ve lived here your whole life and never heard of such a thing, please know it’s not you. Growlers are a relatively new sensation, as the state just started allowing their sale for brewpubs in 2003 and small brewers in 2005. The catch? Individual cities were free to forbid such sales—Minneapolis began allowing them just last summer. So, this is something your parents were never allowed to do. (Though your great-grandparents could. Liquor laws seem to be among mankind’s most variable ordinances.) The law today: Minnesota brewers making less than 3,500 barrels of beer a year can sell growlers—as long as their local municipality lets them and grants an off-sale permit. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth all do just that.
Where should you go to participate in the great growler explosion? Here are five of my top suggestions:
Brand new Harriet Brewing on Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue in south Minneapolis is our fair city’s first Belgian brew specialist, Belgian beer of course being fine, light, and delicate, with finer bubbles and a more Champagne-like bent then regular beer. Here, growlers are only sold a few days a week (currently Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons). However, the brewery gets bonus points because in addition to their excellent beers, Harriet is brand-new, so you’ll get a lot of excitement and compliments if you bring one of their brews to a summer barbecue. harrietbrewing.com
In Seven corners by the U stands one of the cities’ greatest brewpubs—made even greater thanks to their willingness to fill a growler-to-go with whatever they’ve got on tap. I tried their Double Hefeweizen recently and fell in love—it’s a wheat beer that is very brisk and crisp, but also intense and weightier than typical wheat beers. Good, good stuff. Their Masala Mama IPA is another favorite; a right hook of intense delicacy. townhallbrewery.com
This St. Paul staple specializes in cask-conditioned ales; that is, beer made in oak casks, just like they were for hundreds of years. What did Shakespeare drink when he drank beer? Something not unlike what they have at Great Waters. greatwatersbc.com
Barley John’s is the unpretentious, wood-paneled little burger spot by the side of the highway—which is only funny because it is held in the utmost highest regard by every super-beer-snob in town. To taste why, try their Little Barley Bitter or their Old Eight Porter. Both are phenomenal British-style brews that are intense, but not overly hoppy, sweet or bitter—they’re just that sort of intense with no particular key overplayed; intense like something played on an organ versus a piano. Because it’s up in New Brighton, I also call this the Ultimate Birthday Present for beer dudes—a growler will only run you about $20, but because you had to haul across town to get it your present will come off as extremely impressive. barleyjohns.com
Growlers To Go
In Duluth there’s the ultimate beer experience: a Growler delivery service (growlerstogo.com). Perhaps one day the Twin Cities will be as enlightened. But until that great day, you can be a seriously rad and gourmand backyard drinker—as long as you know that a growler isn’t a poorly trained dog.