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Although it's unlikely that consumers would prefer cans over bottles for the refrigerator, a good micro on the boat or at the beach may drive enough volume for some package breweries to warrant canning in addition to bottling.

February/March 2003 Cover

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Can Cans Contain Quality Craft?

New Developments May Change Can's Role in Specialty Beer

     Cans have never been considered a viable package for craft beer for many reasons. But with the advent of new packaging technology and affordable cans, that could change.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]The barriers to small breweries putting craft beer in cans have been many. Image, the high cost of canning lines, and sourcing out cans in reasonable and affordable quantities are the primary reasons small brewers have avoided cans. These barriers are now beginning to erode. An affordable canning line for small-batch packaging is being manufactured in Canada, and cans are now available at a cost and in quantities similar to bottles. Add high-priced imports already in cans, and the image problem of cans as a "cheap" product package may also be eroding.
The few brief attempts at canning by craft breweries here in the States never gained much attention or many sales. Recently, however, Oskar Blues Brewery, a small six-barrel brewery and brewpub in Lyons, Colo., released a high-flavor pale ale in cans to the local market with what appears to be a serious attempt to change the perception that quality beer doesn't belong in a can. Also, cans are a popular package for craft beer in Canada, where Big Rock Brewing Company sells about half of its total production in cans. High-quality imports are already using cans for the "widget" nitrogen dispenser, and imports such as Heineken and Beck's have been successful in cans for some time.
Although many craft brewers would certainly cringe at the idea of putting their product in a can, the very same mentality that started the craft-brewing category in the States -- that of breaking barriers and developing unconventional ideas -- is still alive and could make craft beer in cans commonplace. Dale Katechis, founder of Oskar Blues, which just recently introduced Dale's Pale Ale in a can, has that early-day enthusiasm.
"We like pushing the envelope and stretching the boundaries. We like hearing something can't be done and then doing it," explained Katechis. In an industry driven for 25 years by enthusiasts who relished pushing the envelope, it's hard to find new and radical ideas. A hoppy, aromatic 6.5% abv pale ale in a can is, well, pretty radical.
The other reason to put beer in cans is simple: sales. Cans permit access to venues that don't allow bottles. Ballparks, golf courses, beaches, boating -- and the airlines. Oskar Blues just landed a one-year contract with Frontier Airlines, which placed an initial order for 1,000 cases to be offered on all flights. As the craft category matures and consumers grow more confident about the product and individual brand quality, "ease of use" and availability in these previously unavailable venues may make sense. Cans could also conceivably increase SKU space for a brand, much as the 12-pack has for many craft brewers.
Perhaps the last remaining barrier will be whether the consumer will accept high-priced, quality beer in a can. With the success of the imports, it appears that this may not be a significant hurdle. Flavor-wise, "cans eliminate the risk of light damage and oxidation to our beer," noted Katechis. A glass polymer lining also ensures that the beer never contacts metal. Although it's unlikely that consumers would prefer cans over bottles for the refrigerator, a good micro on the boat or at the beach may drive enough volume for some package breweries to warrant canning in addition to bottling.
Will we see many craft beers available in cans five years from today? Six or seven years ago, if people had been asked a similar question regarding 12-packs, many people would have said no. Will craft beer in cans "degrade" the segment, or will it elevate the perceived image of cans? The next style that Oskar Blues plans to put into a can may be indicative of the answer -- a 9% abv barley wine!

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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