Minnesota's Craft Beer

Where did growlers get their name?

A few months ago my brother asked me why growlers are called growlers, and I honestly had no idea. I did some online searching, and found the following answer by Jonathon Green at Quora.com from December 2, 2011. At the end of this thorough history, I’ll describe some of the various growlers available for purchase at Voyageur Brewing Company tap room.

“The growler, in this context, started life in the late 19th century. It was a container, usually a covered pail with a carrying handle, in which beer was purchased at a tavern, then brought home for consumption; thus there developed such compounds as growler money, growler boy (who fetched the beer), and growler bag (a bag used to mask the growler’s contents and thus make it ‘respectable’ for women to run the errand). Perhaps its best-known use was in the phrase rush the growler (also chase the growler or work the growler), which described the act of taking the container to a tavern, having it filled with beer and then bringing it home for drinking.

Although there has been much debate about its origins (see, for instance Gerald Cohen, Studies in Slang VI (1999) pp.1–20) the etymology remains unknown. Suggestions have included the growling, grating noise of the can as it slid, full of beer, across the bar, or the ‘growling’ or grumbling of the children who were sent on the errand, or the drunken arguing that ensued among recipients of the liquor.

It was first noticed by the press in the 1880s:

1883 Trenton (NJ) Times 20 June: The growler is the latest New York institution. It is a beer can, the legitimate outgrowth of the enforcement of the Sunday liquor law. Young men stand on the sidewalk and drink their beer out of a can, which, as fast as emptied, is sent to be refilled where-ever its bearer can find admittance. It is called the growler because it provokes so much trouble in the scramble after beer.

1884 Forest and Stream (N.Y.) 4 Dec.: ‘Mister, please give me a penny to fill me mother’s growler.* I had six cents and lost one o’ them down a grating, and she’ll beat me if I go home without the beer.’ *Originally ‘growler’ was applied by city tramps to the empty fruit caps into which they emptied stale beer from the kegs on the sidewalk. This act was termed ‘working the growler,’ but the word now covers, in low life, any receptacle for beer.”

At Voyageur we offer a glass, half-gallon growler ($5 deposit); a 64-ounce Nalgene river growler ($19); a 64-ounce stainless steel growler ($45); and a 64-ounce black Hydro Flask ($56). We are also happy to exchange or fill any growlers you already own. Whatever your favorite beer or destination, we have the appropriate vessel for you.


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