As holiday party season heats up, invitees ask that age-old question: What host or hostess gift should I take? Happily, there’s an answer to please just about everyone: a growler filled with delicious, fresh craft beer. Less pretentious than wine, a good craft brew is a drink we can all get with. And if you follow the rules in last week’s column, everyone will love it.

But what is a growler?

As early as 10,000 B.C., man was putting quantities of beer in jugs, to save for later. Archeologists know this because jugs have been found and carbon-dated. As our ancestors’ beer-drinking tastes refined, they began to refine the jugs’ shapes as well. Egyptians put lids on jugs and even placed beer in tombs of departed royals to drink in the hereafter. Early Germanic peoples used hollowed-out animal horns and animal skins. Covered wooden buckets came into use, followed by metal buckets with lids. Later, elaborate beer steins emerged in Bavaria.

It was those metal buckets that picked up the name “growler,” because of the curious noises they made being carried home from the tavern. The lids rattled a bit because, as the expectant imbiber walked, the beer agitated, releasing carbon dioxide. The unique noise was called the beer’s growl; thus, the containers were growlers.

Growlers have been elevated since the days of growling buckets, but the name’s now slapped on most any vessel–other than a standard can or bottle–filled with fresh brew from a tap.

In most states, it’s legal to fill quart, half-gallon and one-gallon brewery growlers for consumption off premises.

Most breweries sell an empty growler for about $5. What’s poured into that empty flagon is what ups the cash outlay. Bigger beers cost more than pedestrian pale ale, obvee. Be ready for a shock if you order a gallon of the latest Russian Imperial project.

If you already have a growler or two, remember these easy refill rules:

  • Insist the filler use a new cap every time.
  • When it’s full, go home and put your growler in the fridge right away; better yet, keep an iced cooler in the back seat (out of reach as you drive, of course).
  • Once the growler’s opened, the beer quickly goes flat, so finish it within two or three days—two weeks at the max.
  • When it’s empty, immediately rinse well with hot water, air dry. Don’t use a wire brush.
  • Never use soap in it or stick it in the dishwasher. The next fill-up will taste like soap.

I cannot stress the last rule enough. With beer, cleanliness is next to godliness. Taking a dirty growler to a fill station could result in an unclean (and probably infected) growler. This can only lead to trouble. The word “nasty” comes to mind.

When deciding what to take to that ugly sweater party, swing by a local taproom and grab a growler or six of brew. It’ll show you put some thought into the gift, even if your sweater isn’t all that ugly.