Sunday, March 20, 2011

Growlers and Crushers

A big brown growler followed me home on a wet December evening. His tag said his name was Winter Cheer. I kept him, although he didn't last long.

I came of beer drinking age in Minnesota in the era of brown, returnable 12 oz glass bottles. A case of Fox Deluxe or Cold Spring beer (the same beer with different labels, according to one rumor) could be had for about 20 cents a bottle. You only bought the beer, not the bottles: those you returned, in their heavy cardboard case, the next time you bought beer.

Graduate school in Arizona found me swilling beer from blue aluminum cans. "High school beer," friends called it when I brought some on a New Year's Eve camping trip. After I moved to the Northwest I gave in to pressure from less understanding friends. I quaffed microbrews from brown glass bottles and then tossed the bottles. Tossed them into the recycling bucket, that is, then schlepped them to the recycling facility. I tiptoed across the landing and down the stairs so the recycling bucket didn't clink: I believe my neighbors are LDS.

While road-tripping last summer I found canned microbrews from Oskar Blues brewery: Imperial IPA, Pale Ale, Imperial Red...Imperial Stout. Stout in aluminum cans! It helped me brave the rain and the frightening trees at Mt. Rainier National Park that evening.

Cans are lighter, more compact, and safer on road trips than bottles. I understand that, overall, aluminum cans use less energy than glass bottles, as they require less material to make and much less energy to ship. In addition, although the numbers are still shockingly high, fewer cans are thrown away ("only" 55% of them nationwide) than bottles (a horrifying 77% nationwide). I tried to console myself with the fact that my bottles were among the 23% that were recycled. I assumed they were made into bottles again, as my aluminum cans are.

Last summer at Flat Top Ranch, John Peavey got me thinking about glass bottles one evening; we wondered where our recycled glass goes. I've since learned that the Ada County Highway District (ACHD) has been collecting glass bottles from Boise for the past seven years. They were grinding the bottles up and using the material as aggregate in road bases. That is, until four years ago when the glass crusher broke down, according to an article in the Boise Weekly. It wasn't repaired because ACHD now contracts out most of their aggregate needs, as they're building fewer roads.

But the bottles kept arriving at the grinding site south of town. Two glass mountain sprouted, then grew.

The Weekly recently reported a plan: curbside glass recycling in Boise, with higher charges to cover it. The glass will be crushed into fiberglass by a local company. Hopefully, more glass will be recycled with the city picking it up.

When I drink microbrew out of glass bottles what I'm really buying is the bottles, the energy to make them, the energy to ship them, and then to dispose of them. People who throw the bottles away are also buying space in landfills. The beer comes along with the bottles to make me feel better about my use of the world's energy and resources.

That is, until the big brown growler followed me home. Growlers are refillable half gallon glass jugs that breweries refill and resell. And I can now get Fat Tire in cans at WinCo, for those times when I can't get through an entire growler while it still tastes like beer.

Although I'll still have to visit to the recycling facility, as Boise will not pick up recycling at apartment buildings, between the growler and the Fat Tire cans there's less clinking on my way down the stairs.


  1. Thanks for this informative post. The microbrew scene in the Midwest is far, far behind the Northwest for sure. No growlers and no cans.

    I love how you mixed environmentalism with beer: two topics near and dear to me!

  2. Sarah,


    Oh dear, sorry about the shortage of beer container options in the Midwest. Keep your eyes open for growlers; I hope they arrive shortly.


  3. We get our growlers from Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage...oh boy, do we love their beer! A taste of their line-up: Panty Peeler (a Belgian-style Tripel), Arctic Rhino (a coffee porter), and Kodiak Nut Brown Ale. Yumm!

  4. Monica,

    Those DO sound good!

    I visited your blog and enjoyed the story about the train. I took the train to Denali several summers back and have wanted to return ever since. And I was disappointed to see that I missed following the Iditarod this year--I'll have to watch your page more closely.


  5. Cindy,
    I am a huge fan of the growler and have a worthless but extensive collection of empties from my travels around the country. I'm sold on the size, I can truthfully claim to have only had one beer when trying to explain to my wife why I'm late and why I'm slurring my speech.

  6. Clarence,

    I enjoy your South East Idaho blog. Despite the amount of beer you claim to drink. And I admire your wife.


  7. Well Cindy, I'm a huge fan of Tablerock because years ago they bottled a beer in honor of my former spouse: Laughing Dog Pale Ale.

    But truly, I don't enjoy beer. I quaff wine as if it were the last droplet of liquid in the Sahara desert. The sheer number of glass bottles piled up around my back door is embarrassing, if not unsanitary and unsafe. I have become a proponent of Black Box wine, simply because I can have one (or 2 or 3) glass at a time and because it's a heck of a lot easier and seemingly greener to dispose of the evidence.

    We all have our weaknesses!

  8. Linda,

    Black Box wine...oh yes! I wonder if beer could be packaged in boxes. A box would be more comfortable to carry home in a shopping bag slung across your back than a 1/2 gallon glass jug is.

    I haven't tried the Laughing Dog Pale Ale and knew nothing of its name. I'd love to know more. And do YOU have an honorary brew?


  9. Cindy, Me? An honorary brew? I'd be lucky to get an honorary vintage! ;-)

  10. Linda,

    Oh that's right; you're a wine drinker.

    If there were an honorary Cindy brew I hope it would be called Pollyanna Porter and be full of chocolate and coffee. A bit flat and with a good head.

  11. Pollyanna Porter...I love it! If I had an honorary wine label, I think it would have to be like the T-shirt my friend gave me for Christmas: Well Red.

    Interesting about the LD Pale Ale. When he coined the company name, there were'nt any other Laughing Dogs around. But, now they pop up in many different applications. It's a fab name.

  12. Yes, growlers are the best for taking home and cans for taking out in the field. But if you like beer and dislike waste that much, why not try homebrewing? It is cheaper... but only if you don't charge yourself for the time spent washing bottles.
    I just finished brewing an Enlightened Black Ale, but my honorary beer would be Black Grizzly Cowboy Coffee Chocolate Imperial Stout... beer that bites back!

  13. Matt,

    Enlightened Black Ale sounds like just the right beer for a Renaissance Man like you! Oh the other hand, I can't wait to try "beer that bites back." YEOWEE!


  14. Update:

    Boise has recently started curbside glass recycling for $9.95/month.