Green’s Dictionary of Slang

growler n.3

[ety. unknown; ? the growling, grating noise of the can as it slid, full of beer, across the bar, or the ‘growling’ or grumbling of the children who were sent on the errand, or the drunken arguing that ensued among recipients of the liquor; for full discussion see Cohen, Studies in Slang VI (1999) pp.1–20]

1. (US) a whisky-flask.

[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 175: English Whisky-flask ... [...] Amer. Tramp Dialect The Growler.
[US]G. Milburn ‘The Hobo Mandalay’ in Hobo’s Hornbook 77: With her head upon my shoulder / At the second growler full.

2. (US) a container, usu. a covered pail with a carrying handle, in which beer is purchased at a tavern, then brought home for consumption; thus growler money, growler boy, growler bag.

[US]Trenton (NJ) Times 20 June 2/2: 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. It is called the growler because it provokes so much trouble in the scramble after beer.
[US]Forest and Stream (N.Y.) 4 Dec. 369: ‘Mister, please give me a penny to fill me mother’s growler.* I had six cents and lost one o’ them down a grating, and she’ll beat me if I go home without the beer.’ *Originally ‘growler’ was applied by city tramps to the empty fruit caps into which they emptied stale beer from the kegs on the sidewalk. This act was termed ‘working the growler,’ but the word now covers, in low life, any receptacle for beer.
[US]J.A. Riis How the Other Half Lives 217: The ‘growler’ stood at the cradle of the tough [...] From the moment he, almost a baby, for the first time carries the growler for beer, he is never out of its reach, and the two soon form a partnership that lasts through life.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 39: The Property Man, carrying a foam-topped growler, discreetly done up in a newspaper.
N.Y. Press sect 3 1/5–7: A growler bag is something in size and shape like the green bags lawyers use to carry their papers in, only it is cut ‘fuller,’ so as to fit the shape of the pall or pitcher it is designed to conceal. With the growler hidden in its bag it is considered perfectly proper for the women as well as the men of the family to purvey liquid refreshment from its source to the thirsty household.
[US]S. Lewis Our Mr Wrenn (1936) 27: Me? I’d pinch the harp and pawn it for ten growlers of Dutch beer and some man-sized rum!
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 4: He was always after my mother for the price of a growler of beer.
[US] (ref. to late 19C) N. Kimball Amer. Madam (1981) 205: Mr Moore sipped from the growler.
[US]E. O’Neill Iceman Cometh Act I: Their sea is a growler of lager and ale.
warwickrealale.co.uk [Internet] Want to drink craft beer the way it's intended to be served? Come down and grab your own Beer Growler today. The freshness of the beer, usability of the growler and the quantity that can be stored within, makes the growler the best way to enjoy a craft beer.

3. (US prison) any form of container, used for coffee, conveying illicit homebrewed alcohol etc.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 87/1: Growler. 1. (P) The coffee pot or can, especially in prisons where cooking is forbidden and the brewing of coffee is done surreptitiously. 2. (P) The container in which home-made alcoholic brew is brought from the place of concealment to a place where it may be drunk with least risk. 3. A large tin can, bucket, pitcher, etc.
[Ire](con. 1920s–30s) S. McAughtry Sinking of the Kenbane Head 21: Hanging up in the bunker was a ‘growler’ – a 7lb jam tin with a wire strung across for a handle.

In compounds

growler joint (n.)

(US) a tavern that sells beer to be taken of the premises.

[US]Anaconda Standard (MT) 24 Oct. 7/1: While I was in a ‘growler joint’ [...] a typical tough came in with a large can [...] —Gimme a pint,’ he said.

In phrases

rush the growler (v.) (also chase the growler, work...)

(US) to buy beer from a tavern and bring it home for drinking there; thus growler-rusher, n. andgrowler-rushing n. and adj.

[US]National Police Gazette (N.Y.) 17 Nov. 6: ‘Suppose we work the growler?’ the whole party burst into innocent laughter, and my fun was evidently appreciated. I need not add that the ‘growler’ was ‘worked,’ and ‘worked’ several times, too. After each of its descents to the corner liquor store (I took it once and then the girls insisted on carrying it in turn afterward), our simple merriment waxed more and more hearty.
[US]Lantern (N.O.) 16 Apr. 2: He rushes de growler over to de grocery of machado.
[US]St Paul Daily Globe (MN) 20 Mar. 13/6: Half a dozen others [...] were sitting around ready to ‘rush the growler’.
[US]St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) 3 Dec. 17/7: ‘Chasing the can,’ ‘rolling the rock’ and ‘working the growler’ all mean sending the tin can down to the corner bar-room for beer.
[US]Anaconda Standard (MT) 24 Oct. 7/1: ‘Great game, that,’ said the bartender, ‘and it’s new. Only a growler rusher would think of it’.
[US]Harper’s Mag. 87 July 307/2: 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;—why?
[US]O. Kildare My Mamie Rose 23: Several houses in the ward had well proven reputations as ‘mixed ale camps,’ meaning thereby places where certain cronies could meet nightly and ‘rush the growler’ as long as the money lasted.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ I’m from Missouri 88: The growler [...] Chase it!
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 39: The landlady had made strict rules on the subject of growler-rushing.
[US]S. Lewis Our Mr Wrenn (1936) 104: They sit around and growl and rush the growler – I hope you know growler-rushing.
[US]S. Lewis Main Street (1921) 391: He made for her a picture of his work in a large tailor shop in Minneapolis: the steam and heat, [...] men who ‘rushed growlers of beer’.
[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 72: Heslin was the contemptible, growler-rushing type of petty thief who would maim or kill a person for refusing him the price of a drink.
[US]K.C. Times 3 May 18: Others would prefer the time honored custom of ‘rushing the growler’ [DA].
[US]Milwaukee (WI) Daily Journal 18 July 2/3: You rushed the growler, the can or the pitcher [DA].
[US] (ref. to 1930s) H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 18: Saloons with shamrocks in the window, and little boys ‘rushing the growler’ [...] taking home a bucket of beer.
[US]H. Roth From Bondage 77: The sewer cleaner handed his helper the tin beer bucket. ‘Will yez rush the growler, me b’y.’.