Making handmade beer growlers is something many potters have found a growing interest in, a natural response to the rising popularity of craft beer and local breweries. A properly functioning growler must have an air-tight lid that traps carbonation and prevents beer from going bad. This poses a problem for potters who want a growler that both functions properly and maintains aesthetics.
Commercially made “flip-top” assemblies are available through home brewing stores. When using these pre-made lids, I was forced to calculate several different measurements of the necks of my bottles as well as the shrinkage rates of my clay. Eventually I was able to successfully create an air-tight lid fit but I felt they looked cheap and limited the size and shape of my forms.
I concluded that it would be best to figure out the mechanics of flip-top lids and make them myself. The first step is to throw the lids on the wheel, making several at once by throwing them off the hump (1). I generally vary the sizes slightly while still conforming to the shape in figure 1. The button at the top of this shape, approximately inch in diameter, will later hold a 1-inch diameter rubber gasket. Gaskets can be purchased at local home brewing supply shops or online. The lid must also have a hole drilled horizontally all the way through to allow for the top part of the bail assembly to be attached.
When making the bottle, be sure to create a strong rim so that when the gasket is pressed firmly against it, it forms a nice seal. You will also need to make two indentations into the clay on opposite sides of the bottle’s neck, about an inch below the rim to attach the bail assembly for the lid. Be careful not to poke all the way through. After you have a bottle and selection of lids, you can simply find the one that looks the best with your overall form and match them up.
The bail assembly is made with 12-gauge galvanized-steel wire, found in hardware stores. There are two pieces that you need to make and both have specific details that are important to the overall mechanism. The lower piece is made by cutting a section of wire and bending it in the middle over a large dowel (2). Use the largest round-nose pliers you can find and loop the wire around to make two eye holes on either side (3). Wrap some small needle-nose pliers with tape in order to reduce the number of scratches that you make in the metal, and bend in the sides just above the eye holes (4). Trim the ends of the wire so that when you fit them into the indentations it doesn’t stick out too far from the bottle. After you finish shaping, use a metal file to clean up any sharp edges and fix it into place.
For the top portion, take another segment of wire and create a slight bend with your fingers. Slide one end of the wire through the hole in the side of the ceramic lid and bend the wire down on both sides about inch away from the edge of the lid (5). The slight curve will act as a spring when the lid is clamped down (see 7). Make a hook on each side that fits into the eye holes of the lower piece. I always make them a little too long, test the fit, and shorten them until they fit firmly (6). It is important that, when viewed from the side, the top piece of the wire bail lines up slightly behind the indentations (7). This will cause your lid to sit tightly in place when clamped down, preventing it from accidentally popping open.
the author Bradley Klem earned his BFA from Arizona State University in 2014. In 2015 Klem partnered with Alexandra Jelleberg to cofound and direct GrowlerFest (see p.22). He is a first-year MFA candidate at Penn State University. To learn more, visit www.bradleyklem.com.