Welcome to Ask Kate About Beer, in which The Takeout’s resident beer expert answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beer but were too drunk to ask. Have a question? Shoot it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m wondering how long I can keep an unopened glass growler in my fridge before drinking it—and would a crowler last longer?
I’m going to define these two terms before I answer your question: Growlers are 64-ounce containers that people can bring to a brewery, get filled with draft beer, and then take home for later consumption. They’re typically made of glass, but other types exist too. Crowlers are a newer invention. They’re 32-ounce aluminum cans that a brewery fills with draft beer and seals with a special machine—basically like a giant beer can.
So, how long will each stay fresh in your fridge? Putting aside variables like the style of beer (hazy, highly hopped beers might degrade quickly, ditto for delicate pilsners) and how long it takes for you to get that beer into your fridge, here’s what the experts told me.
How long growlers stay fresh
Bring your growler to a brewery and the staff there will usually rinse it, place it under a tap handle, and start pouring. When beer reaches nearly the lip of the growler, they’ll screw a cap on the growler, and then usually cover that cap with some tape or plastic to keep it sealed.
It’s not a perfect seal, though, and air is still trapped in between the beer and the cap. Oxygen is the enemy of beer freshness, so every day that beer sits around, it’s losing more of its straight-from-the-tap flavor.
“For the unopened glass growler, I’d say you could keep it refrigerated about a week to 10 days max,” says Hamlet Fort, marketing and events manager for Station 26 Brewing in Denver. Of course, it’s best to consume the beer inside as soon as possible—ideally, you’d fill a growler the day you intend to drink it.
Once you open it, though, oxygen rushes in and pressure is removed, so your beer is going flatter and flatter by the moment. Even if you re-screw the cap on the growler, finish drinking it by the next day. That goes doubly for crowlers, which have a pop-top like a regular beer can. Once they’re open, finish them.
How long crowlers stay fresh
Crowlers have a few advantages over growlers, which is why they’re becoming more popular. Jeremy Rudolph of Crowler Nation tells me Oskar Blues and Ball Corporation, the two companies that jointly pioneered the crowler, have sold about 3,000 of the sealing machines over the past five or six years. Crowlers are lightweight, less breakable, better sealed, and they’re single-use. That latter aspect is important, because beer growlers can get nasty and funky if you don’t clean them thoroughly with hot water and soap in between uses.
A brewery should follow best practices for filling a crowler, which include purging the empty can with CO2 before pouring in the beer. (“If you don’t do that, you’re guaranteed that beer will start changing within hours,” Rudolph says.) But if a brewery purged the can and filled it properly, then the liquid should stay fresh for a bit.
“A lot of breweries have been putting 3-7 days on their crowlers as a guideline,” Rudolph tells me. “They’re great a vessel, but they’re not a time capsule. So if kept cold, depending on the beer style, I’d say they’re good for a few days to maybe a couple weeks.”
To get a more precise breakdown of that timeline by beer style, I turn to Kelly Montgomery, head brewer at Brink Brewing in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Milkshake IPAs and New England IPAs would definitely be on the short end of the spectrum, where you’d see flavor drop off after just a few days. More traditional IPAs should be fine for 7-10 days,” he tells me. “Non-hop-forward beer styles, like stouts, ambers, and saisons will hold their freshness for much longer, easily two weeks to even a month.”
But just because they could stay good for a while doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink crowlers right away. In a perfect word, Rudolph advises, we’d all consume our to-go beer as quickly as we consume our to-go pizza: “It’s best fresh. How long would you let one of those sit in your fridge?”