As holiday party time approaches, consider arriving with something more creative than the standard six-pack or bottle of wine, such as a local microbrew, a regional favorite or perhaps something no one has heard of before. One of the best ways to do this is with a growler, a reusable 32- or 64-ounce jug for buying draft beer to take off-site.
Mostly associated with microbreweries, growers allow patrons to partake of their favorite beers — many of which are not available in bottles or cans — at home. They also can make a nice gift for a beer-loving host, as the growler can be saved and refilled.
In our area, both Fairhope Brewing Co. and Big Beach Brewing Co. sell (and fill) growlers at their taprooms, so if you want to share a fresh (Take the) Causeway IPA with Santa, you can now do so. In addition to our local breweries, there are also a number of other locations in Mobile and Baldwin counties were you can purchase a wide variety of draft beer in growlers, and not just local favorites, but selections from craft breweries from across the country.
Mobile’s Cottage Hill Package Store offers a wide variety (17 beers on tap), available for purchase in 64-ounce growlers and (single-use) 32-ounce aluminum crowlers. Old Shell Growlers recently opened across the street from the Dew Drop Inn, with more 30 draft beers for sale. One of the most convenient, and well-priced, places to get a growler, however, is at your local Piggly Wiggly.
At the Spanish Fort Piggly Wiggly, the manager allowed me sample tastings of the brews I was interested in. Despite having only six choices, I was impressed that microbrews from Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi were available.
I purchased a 32-ounce growler for $4.90, and the beer was $5.47. I asked how often they change the menu, and the manager said it just depends when they run out — sometimes they replace it with the same beer, but more often they choose something new. Incidentally, the Foley Piggly Wiggly had five different beers on tap, so you can get some variety just by hitting a different Pig.
Asheville, North Carolina, has become a mecca of craft brewing over the past decade or so, with 17 breweries in a city of just over 80,000 people, so (after tasting) I chose a Brown Bear from the Catawba Brewing Company, which I had never heard of before. The brown ale was excellent, very dark, almost like a stout, with chocolate and coffee flavors.
Encouraged by my new find, I sought to find out more about Catawba, and to see if there were more varieties available in our area. Cottage Hill Package Store had a different Catawba on tap, so on my next visit out to West Mobile I stopped in and filled a growler with a Firewater IPA. Again, I was not disappointed, as the traditional IPA was tasty, with good hoppy flavor, but not overpowering. I will get it again soon.
Growlers are great ways to experiment with new beers, so this holiday season, forget the fruitcake and bring a growler of fresh beer to the party; your host will thank you for it.