Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Rush the Growler

Janet called in to ask about the phrase, to rush the growler. The original growler was a metal pail, with or without a lid. Factory workers would hire children as young as 10 to go to a tavern, then haul the beer back to them. Fathers would send their children to the tavern with a growler at night after the parents got home from work.

The original growler held one quart of beer—four glasses—and the beer cost about 7 cents. When customers began to bring in oversized buckets, bartenders began to rebel, and eventually growlers were banned. Of course, Prohibition didn't hurt.

Here are a couple of contemporary accounts.

“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.” [Trenton NJ Times, June 20, 1883]

“In New York a can brought in filled with beer at a bar-room is called a growler, and the act of sending this can from the private house to the public-house and back is called working the growler”. [Harper’s Magazine, July 1892]

No one is willing to be definitive about the origin. There are several suggestions, a couple of them patently ridiculous.

  • It causes drinkers to growl at each other as they scramble to get their buckets filled.
  • It refers to the growling stomachs of hungry factory workers.
  • When the beer sloshed around in the pail, it created a rumbling or growling sound as the CO2 escaped through the lid.
  • Growling represented the give and take between the bartender and the customer as to what constituted a full pail, the customer demanding to wait until the foaming head went down.

Finally, nostalgic memories of growlers led to this verse:

The old iron growler, the galvanized growler,

The much-dented growler which hung on the wall!

That coveted vessel was hailed as a treasure,

And always at noon, when I took it to fill,

Pa found it the source of an infinite pleasure,

As tired and thirsty he came from the mill.

How quickly he seized it, with hands that were eager,

And deeply he quaffed of the cold, quenching brew,

While I hung around like a guilty intriguer,

Hoping to have what was left when father got through;

The old iron growler, the galvanized growler,

The much-dented growler my infancy knew!

[William J. Fielding, Pebbles from Parnassus, 1917]

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