Over the past year, since starting the website version of The Pour Fool, I’ve been going into my email files and addressing some of the questions that readers have had. Most were about the beverages, a few were about people (Who’s the best winemaker or brewer or distiller in America?”, etc., etc.) and quite a few – despite the fact that I have said a number of times that I don’t review accessory items, books, and other peripherals – were about growlers. 377 people to be exact, have asked me about thermal growlers – something in which to cache some cold tap beer and transport it from A to Z without loss of either bubbles or chill. There are many growlers that are made simply to be beautiful, such as my favorites, the wonderful sculptures-as-vessels from Montana’s Carlsburg Pottery, but these are more or less the same animals as your basic glass growlers: great for the short run home and straight into the fridge. They’re not designed to hold cold indefinitely and I really love the things. But, for real chill and bubble preservation…well, I’ve found very slim pickins.
In the eight year period since The Pour Fool debuted, five different manufacturers have sent me sample growlers, all with a ton of accompanying testimonials from people swearing that this is the best thing to happen to beer since the discovery of yeast. Every single one of these had serious enough flaws that I finally had to groan, cuss a bit, and keep looking. My reply to readers’ questions was so rote that I finally made a form email for it: “Thanks for reading The Pour Fool and thanks for the question about a good thermal growler. To this point, I have to say that I have found NO single container of any configuration that will both keep your beer cold and avoid both loss of effervescence and oxidation.”
The next-to-latest of these arrived just about six months ago, a handsome matte-black behemoth with a man-sized screw top. The problems were simple: the screw threads were so large that, when internal pressure from the carbonation built up, it became hard for anyone short of Olympic body-builders to remove the cap. It also let my beer come almost to room temperature in less than six hours.
So, when I received this new 64 ozer from Bend, Oregon’s DrinkTanks, I wasn’t hopeful. It certainly looked the part: substantial, shiny, handsome, and built like the proverbial battleship. But I had seen that before.
So, I went to one of the local breweries, here around Seattle, that I like best, Bellevue’s dazzling Geaux Brewing. I filled the thing with their sublime “Camellia”, a Belgian Wheat IPA that absolutely sings in one’s mouth, took it home, set it out on my kitchen counter…and went away for 17 hours. This was not an easy decision. I really LOVE Camellia, so the good bet that this growler might very well ruin a half-gallon of the stuff conjured up pictures in my head of driving out to Deception Pass, to the dead-center of the bridge, and flinging a DrinkTank just as far as I can possibly fling it. Nervous? You betcha…
Sunday morning, 9 a.m. I get up to make coffee and there she sits, looking cool and capable. I stood and stared at it for maybe 90 seconds. If I open this thing and the beer’s flat or warm, the thing is dead. Deception Pass might even be too good for it. Maybe one of those things that eats cars, down at the steel mill…I don’t want to know, suddenly…but I do. So…I pop the wire bale handles, lift off the cap, and pour out one ounce…(It is Sunday morning at 9 o’clock, after all)…
Perfect! Thick, creamy head that builds for a few seconds, cool as it was when the growler was filled. Perfect. I slap the cap on, lock down the bales, and wait until 5 o’clock that evening; 26 hours after the fill and opened once, already…
I pour us two glasses. We sip. Perfect.
I open it again at 10 p.m., still cold, still fully effervescent. Then I open it for the third time, at noon the following day. Still within five degrees of the temperature at filling and still bubbling up like a fresh pour.
I wanted to cry. Seriously.
My readers were not the only ones who had been searching for that perfect – or, hell, even adequate – growler for the better part of a decade. I’m the guy who visits several hundred breweries a year. There have been all kinds of beers I would have loved to take home. I took only those brewed within a day’s drive of my home. Because anything that had to travel farther than that was going to suffer some serious abuse.
DrinkTanks changes all that. My sample arrived with an optional feature that’s offered with both this 64 oz. version and with the 128 oz. (The “Juggernaut”) gallon-size, a thing called KegCap, which uses a standard CO2 capsule to power a small valve which dispenses your beer just like the pump-tap used on a real keg. While I question the usefulness of the cap on a 64 ounce growler – which, with any more than one person drinking it, is going to last maybe two – three hours and four pint pours – with the gallon size it could be a really great thing to have, for keeping the two of you in gorgeous tap beer for as much as maybe a week.
The ease of operation of this beauty is startling. The bales are thick wire and solid steel. They fit easily into two receiver grooves set into the cap, and are equipped with heavy-duty plastic handles that make opening it dirt-simple. The seal is as solid as a bank vault door and the double-wall construction maintains an excellent thermal barrier. If this thing had just performed adequately, I would be singing its praises, because everything else I’ve tried was hopelessly flawed. There are some names starting to emerge in this market and I see their ads and think of folks who buy them and think, “You’ll buy one of those. You will not buy a second.” But this DrinkTanks over-performed; went waaay beyond what I wanted for a thing in which to tote draft beer and keep it fresh and viable. For my line of work, I foresee having several of these babies and opening up whole new opportunities in tasting and possibly even shipping beers. I’ve already checked out the 128 oz. version of the DrinkTanks and am ordering it today.
These growlers are not cheap. The 64 oz. will run ya a cool $69 from the company’s website and the 128 is currently on sale for $89, marked down from $109. They come in twelve different color choices and all are handsome and well designed and are, of course, brandable, for an additional charge. Smart brewery owners will think beyond price (many of the inadequate growlers will run ya a lot less) and think about how their customers are going to feel when their shiny new purchase proves impossible to open or lets their beer get warm at warp speed. For you, yeah, it’s a hefty chunk o’ change. But think of it this way: it’s the last thermal growler you will need for maybe twenty years. There is very little to break on this device and, after really taking a determined look at it, I have been able to find exactly one thing that even might be a problem and one very minor thing that just is a headache but cannot really be solved:
If asked by the folks at DrinkTanks, I would probably suggest that the rim of the tank, which is the part that comes into direct contact with the cap and forms its seal, be beaded, instead of simply rounded off. It’s not sharp, certainly, but small-gauge enough that I could imagine it eventually cutting into the nylon ring gasket and losing seal. I think the seal itself and the wear on the gasket could be improved if the rim were given a 1MM (or so) bead, or, as a more sensible solution than the retooling and redesign needed to add the bead, maybe a replacement gasket included with each purchase? (Doncha love how I’m freely spending DrinkTanks’ money?) The gasket talk leads to the second and insoluable thang: when the growler is very full, as mine was, the first pour is almost guaranteed to result in a spill. This is the case with every container that doesn’t have a molded pour rim and it’s probably not a problem that will ever be fixed. Those CostCo milk jugs have this problem so badly that I finally invented my own remedy for them: I stopped buying milk at CostCo. I’m not crying over spilt milk but I do weep, a bit, when the beer hits the rim of the growler and sluices down the side of the container. It prompts that dizzying moment of wondering if you can lick the counter without anyone seeing you, followed quickly by the realization that it’s just never a good idea to lick your countertops. Technique can help with this sort of spillage but the Universe probably has given us this as a small reminder that Life Ain’t Fair, just like how blowing up balloons for your kid’s birthday party gives you a headache, how every food that tastes really great is bad for you, and the continued existence of Justin Bieber.
I’m completely delighted with DrinkTanks and I am almost pathetically grateful that they sent along this fabulous new container as my – and your! – permanent fix for beer totin’. The company is now either in the final stages of or just finished a KickStarter campaign, so there may be a slight delay in delivery but probably not. They ship promptly and pack uber-intelligently and, as we’ve all waited since the advent of American craft brewing for something that works this well, even a little wait is well worth it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading back to Geaux, DrinkTank in hand, to bring home our two-day supply of “Treme”, their gorgeous IPA. If you’re smart, you’ll use this time to get online, go to DrinkTanks.com, and solve one of life’s knottiest problems.