Home

spacer1

GrowlerWerks UKeg 64 is to beer enjoyment and preservation what Gibson and Sterling’s book was to steampunk: a seminal event that signals the dawn of a whole new, exciting paradigm.

spacer1

TPFnewWhat I’m setting out to write here is a big damned subject, with tangents and tributaries and tentacles. This could, very easily, go on for the same length as a novelette. And I – not exactly someone who is known for brevity – has to try to keep it some length that you can read without taking a nap in the middle.

Wish me luck…

About five years ago, I started to get inquiries – a lot of inquiries! – from folks who were intrigued/confused by the new and booming subject of steel thermal growlers. There were not many of them available, at the time, and I finally got enough emails, asking for my recommendation, that I began to read up on them. Curiously, about that same moment, makers of these started sending queries, asking if I would be willing to try theirs and maybe review it. The coincidence was hard to ignore, so I started replying and saying yes. Three arrived right away. The first of them was just a flat-out Fail: hard to close, harder to open, imperfect seal, didn’t keep beer effervescent for more than a day, broke easily. The third was better but still tricky to use and dented if you looked at it. Fail, Part Deux.

GW_HERO_stainless-64_WHITE_working

GrowlerWerks UKeg 64, stainless finish

#2 was and still is one of the best thermal growlers I’ve ever tried and is still – four years later – working like a Trojan (the ancient warrior, not the condom) and is my go-to growler that I use constantly. This was from Bend, Oregon’s DrinkTanks, and  remains the most reliable basic thermal growler I’ve ever tried. Right behind that one is Miir, a gorgeous (more like a piece of sculpture, really, than something to carry beer) new design from a diversified Seattle company that also makes camping/student/courier bags, food containers, and bicycles(!)(?), all of which seem, again, as much art pieces as utilitarian objects. There were three others submitted for review but they were all problematic and I couldn’t recommend them.

MiirBurke

The Miir “Burke” bicycle

But the one hurdle that none of these even tried to address was how to extend the life of what’s inside beyond the basic window of two days, for the lesser growlers, and five days for the Miirs and DrinkTankses. Each time any of them is opened, you’re sticking a dagger into the expected viability of the beverage. Oxidation was a huge factor and, even with the DrinkTanks, faded the beer to something like a fifth-pass Xerox copy by Day Five. Readers didn’t seem to care: “What the hell do I care if I don’t get more than three days out of a growler of beer?” sid67AZ wrote, “It’s 64 ounces! If I can’t knock off sixty-four ounces of beer in three days – with too much help from my wife, I might add – I should just buy cans.

I sorta felt that same way. I should go through any beer that I like enough to purchase by the half-gallon in three days. The DrinkTanks and Miir both held for three days with almost full carbonation and little detectable oxidation. The extended-life Thang, frankly, seemed like a non-issue. Besides, as John.BadaBoom12 wrote, “If I want more than five days of fresh beer, I’m gonna rent a pony keg and get really decadent!” I agreed. I’ve done just that, many times. But that’s problematic. What if I don’t finish that much beer? I don’t really drink a lot, for someone who does what I do for a living. If I rented a pony, I was having guests and a bunch of ’em, which I don’t do a lot. This problem has just squatted there, going nowhere, smack in the middle of the thermal growler convo, for years.

Well, brethren and sisteren, this problem has now been SOLVED – emphatically and with Maximum Cool.

GrowlerWerks of Portland, Oregon – the Disneyland of Beer – sent me two different queries, asking if I would be interested in writing about their new, CO2-equipped, thermal growler. I was openly skeptical. I replied that I just don’t review anything I haven’t personally tried and figured that would be the end of it. It wasn’t. They just said, “Okey-doke,” and sent one. Well…irrational as it may sound, I have this small but persistent fear of CO2 cartridges. I knew a kid, when I was in grade school, who managed to make one explode and took off a finger. I’m a grown-ass man, now, and should have gotten past that but it’s really not all that hard to avoid having CO2 as a part of your daily life, especially after you give up BB guns, so it was never an issue.

Two weeks ago, I received the GrowlerWerks UKeg 64.

First thing: I first read William Gibson’s game-changing “Neuromancer” the year it was released, 1984. Gibson is single-handedly responsible for inventing the SciFi genre of “cyberpunk” and, with writing partner, Bruce Sterling, wrote “The Difference Engine”, in 1990, therein inventing the term and concept of “steampunk“.

thedifferenceengine1stedI pulled the GrowlerWerks UKeg 64 out of the box and went wide-eyed. “Steampunk!” I said, out loud…alone…smiling from ear to ear. Steampunk, as a literary genre, basically deals with the question of “What would the world be like if we had invented most of the same technology we have now but it was all analog and not digital?” It featured huge, room-size computers with cogs and flywheels and strange, hideously complex conveyances powered by steam. (See photos for examples)  I am hardly the first person to observe this about the GrowlerWerks vessels. Nearly every review I’ve found online mentions the obvious connection and I suspect that those which didn’t were by people who are not SciFi fans…or very young.

ZDNetMouse

Steampunk Mouse/Photo by ZDNet

I don’t really know if the folks at GrowlerWerks – Shawn Huff, Brian Sonnichsen, and Evan Rege – started thinking about this device as a piece of post-punk art. They may have. But somewhere along the process of realizing this, somebody said, “Y’know all these engineering challenges we have to  solve? Well, they sorta beg for a design that suggests, like, steampunk.” Intentional or not, this growler screams steampunk; not in a pushy or self-conscious way but really sort of elegantly and that is, indeed, what is so immediately and endearingly fun about it. The design could have been lifted from “The Difference Engine” unchanged, if Gibson and Sterling had made beer a cultural lynchpin of their alternative future. It would have been dead-easy to design this growler with NONE of the elegance and eye-appeal and grace that it proclaims, when viewed from any different angle. And there are a LOT of companies that would have done exactly that. Having this in the marketplace, though, insures that we are not likely at all to have to endure purely utilitarian designs that favor function only, with no eye for aesthetics. In that, GrowlerWerks has done us a HUGE favor.

1522253141068 (1)More to the point, however, this thing WORKS – sorry, “WERKS” – perfectly. I overcame my aversion to the CO2 cartridges – after reading every word of the user’s manual, twice – and was left with only the task of finding a beer that I liked well enough to drink it for some extended period. Our local beer shop, Pint Defiance, provided my answer: pFriem Family Brewers “Juicy”, a crazy-fine, slightly-hazy IPA that shovels up tropical fruit and citrus and perfectly-integrated hop resins with unforced brilliance. I drove over to PD, ponied up the growler – to an instant and unsolicited chorus of “Oohs” and  “Wows!” from nearly everyone in the shop – and loaded up. Drove it home. Took a deep breath and inserted the CO2 cartridge, and opened the valve as though handling a live cobra.

IMG_20180328_090513 (1)It charged right up, gave me mostly foam on the first pour, and then settled into perfect, creamy, fast pours that gave each glass a thick, mousse-like head, and cut off without so much as a drip or a significant loss of pressure.

And did that for six fuggen days!

I just emptied the GrowlerWerks UKeg 64 last night, March 27th. It was filled on Wednesday, March 21st, about 5 p.m.  The last sputtering pour was as effervescent and as fresh as when the beer went in. I asked for a sample pour of Juicy at Pint Defiance, just so the carbonation and flavor profile of it, just off the keg, would be fresh in my mind. I was astonished. I would estimate the end oxidation at maybe 1.5 – 2% – in other words, undetectable. The CO2 gave it added carbonation, which MIGHT be a drawback in some ales but was wildly complimentary in the Pfriem Juicy. Do you have any idea how rare it is, in this age of near-instant obsolescence and replace-rather-than-fix as a virtual cultural mantra, to find anything that not only lives up to the claims in the marketing literature IMG_20180328_090547 (1)but exceeds them in every aspect? You run a better chance of finding a vegan cowboy.

If there are any drawbacks at all to the UKeg, I only know of two possibles: NUMBER ONE: I did find that, left out on my counter and unrefrigerated, it lost just under 1.5 degrees in 24 hours, as compared to the .9 degrees for the DrinkTanks. For most practical applications, this isn’t going to matter. If you’re taking a 64 ounce growler on a car trip or an outing where refrigeration or an ice chest is not available, just drink the damned beer and don’t worry about it. If it’s at home – and you’re not some faux-scientist weenie who’s testing the thing – stick it in the fridge. In my refrigerator, it lost NO appreciable temperature in the six days.

IMG_20180328_090629 (1)NUMBER TWO:  given all the extra connections and tubes and the gauge and the tap and all that gloriously aesthetic stuff, there is simply far more to break than with my Miir or DrinkTanks. Both of those can be safely tossed into the back floorboard of your car, absorb the occasional scrape or bang with no real damage, fall into the bottom of a cooler, survive your four-year-old’s best efforts to reduce it to rubble, or, in my case, take a tumble off my Bulldog ladder and fall eight feet into gravel without either breaking open or snapping off anything of importance. Yeah, you’re gonna have to baby this GrowlerWerks UKeg 64 a bit. But then, what you get in return more than justifies treating it as you would treat your laptop, rather than your gym bag. Even a distracted dolt like me can handle this device with reasonable care, if you just pay minimal attention to it, and I’m told that spare parts are readily available, should you have an “Oopsie” or even and outright, “Aw, FUCK!

GW_CapExpansion_128stainlessAnd the CO2 regulator that I was SO totally Granny-scale intimidated by, was a cinch to use. The cartridge seats itself and a quick twist opens the CO2 supply into the mechanism and just stops hissing when it’s ready. So simple, even a cranky, distracted, short-tempered beer writer from Tacoma, Washington can do it, which means you could probably do it while asleep or on heavy medication.

And, I want to emphasize that it’s quite possible – quite likely, in fact – that the six days is NOT the outside window for how long your beer will stay viable in this growler. It’s just when mine ran out. I’ve sometimes finished beer that’s been in a conventional thermal growler on the fifth day and just lived with the loss of carbonation and the obvious oxidation. Here, that was SO not an issue.

 

HuffSonnichsen

Shawn Huff/Brian Sonnichsen/Evan Rege

 

This thing is going to cost you pretty reliably right at $150. A quick search in Google Shopping shows that as the baseline price, with only a handful of stores charging more. (Bloomingdale’s shows it at $188, which figures, if you should want the additional cachet of casually dropping, “Oh, this? Um, I got this at Bloomingdale’s…” into the conversation.) There is also a full-gallon sized version – 128 ounces, a far more reasonable size – which I’ve found at $188 and, really, for just $38 more, you might just want that additional capacity, especially if, unlike me, you actually enjoy entertaining.

quickstart_step5The company’s original shipment of this to me somehow either became either lost or side-tracked in transit. They showed it as delivered but it never arrived here. I’m delighted that they persisted. If $150 seems like a lot for something with which to carry beer, ask yourself how great it would be to actually have keg beer that you could stick in your fridge, take with you on trips or to a friend’s house, and be able to refill with something new, every week. If that doesn’t send a little thrill up your spine, stick to cans. But for the vast majority of us who know and care for Indie/Craft beer that $150 is going to seem cheap.

GrowlerWerks UKeg 64 is to beer enjoyment and preservation what Gibson and Sterling’s book was to steampunk: a seminal event that signals the dawn of a whole new, exciting paradigm.

spacer1

TPFAddress2015New

spacer1

 

One thought on “GrowlerWerks: The PouroMancer at Home

  1. Pingback: GrowlerWerks: The PouroMancer at Home – Professor Good Ales

Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s