Home' Brewers Guardian Digital Magazine : September 2013 Contents G
enerally speaking, America’s craft brewers are to
be admired for their creativity, even if the brewing
industry from time-to-time views their more imagi-
native offerings with a degree of scepticism.
But the latest trend to emerge from the United
States should be greeted by even the most hidebound tradi-
tionalists with enthusiasm. Hang on to your pull tabs: craft
beer packaged in cans is poised to become the next big thing.
Over the past two years, cans have doubled their share
of what is already a rapidly-growing US craft beer market.
Bottle shops and bars are adding shelves for cans, new busi-
nesses are popping up to support the growing marketplace,
and mobile canning lines have even been spotted at beer fairs
around the country – offering home brewers a novel way to
package their creations.
So far, so good for cans. But can they really supplant bottles
as the default format of choice for packaged craft beer?
“Bottles are still clearly king in craft,” says Bart Watson,
staff economist at the Brewers Association, the non-profit trade
body of the American craft fraternity. He points out that even
with double-digit growth canned beer accounts for only four to
five per cent of the US craft market, and that only one of the
top-50 selling US craft packages is in a can.
Yet, the trend has expanded so rapidly that the Brewers
Association considers its 2011 count of 179 craft brewers
offering canned beers to be woefully outdated. Back-of-the-
envelope estimates suggest that the number of craft brewer-
ies opting to package in cans may have climbed by as much
as 66% over the past two years. By the time the Brewers
Association completes its next report in 2014, Watson expects
that percentage to be even higher.
The craft-in-can movement has even spawned its own web-
site, www.craftcans.com, with its motto “news and reviews
for the canned beer revolution”. Here, more than anywhere,
an accurate number might be expected. The website calcu-
lates that 338 American craft brewers are now canning in one
form or another – although that figure includes breweries that
might not qualify as “craft”, such as MillerCoors subsidiary AC
Beer quality preserved
Aluminium advocates say this packaging trend is being driven
by a belief that cans are able preserve the quality of beer so
much better than bottles.
“It’s a scientific fact a can is better for craft beer than a
bottle,” says Pat Hartman, managing director of Colorado-
based Mobile Canning, which travels to small breweries to can
smaller batches of beer.
“You’re getting zero UV light penetration through a can,
whereas a bottle – even if it’s dark brown glass – it’s still clear
enough for light to pass through. Craft brewers today don’t
pasteurise their beer or take steps that macro-brewers like
Anheuser-Busch take. So hop particles are broken down by UV
light, which lowers shelf life.”
Another advantage of cans over bottles in the American mar-
ket is that they are more convenient to carry. Jeremy Youde,
a Minnesota-based home brewer, says he’s enjoyed buying
cans from both larger craft operations and smaller regional
outfits. “As someone who likes to take beer with me when I go
kayaking or camping, I’m pro-cans,” says Youde. “They’re a lot
lighter, much easier to transport, and seem to stay colder. With
more craft brewers canning, I like having more options, too.”
And as for taste? Aficionados say any difference is minimal.
“Many people still think of the old cans, which likely imparted
a metallic taste on the beer,” says Josh Nay, a former profes-
sional brewer who has worked at several East Coast brewer-
ies. “Today, cans are lined throughout and there’s no metallic
taste, but it is taking time to convert folks.”
That conversion process seems to gaining momentum,
argues Jason Medvec, president of Big Wood Brewery in White
Bear Lake, Minnesota. In his two years as a brewer, Medvec
claims to be witnessing a greater acceptance from the brewing
industry and consumers alike that cans are here to stay.
“I read ever more positive reviews about cans in beer blogs,
and I’m seeing our competitors reverting from bottles to cans
all the time,” says Medvec, whose brewery has only ever used
cans. “Bars are taking on our cans as well – in fact, our cans
are probably in as many bars as our draught beer.”
A further benefit of using cans over bottles, Medvec suggests,
is the advertising and marketing space they provide when com-
pared to a small bottle label. “Having all that space on a can
to deliver our messages has been very beneficial to us.”
Rather than take on its own canning line, Big Wood shares
one that is owned by a local food producer. Medvec says that
the latest passion of America’s craft
brewers comes in the unlikeliest of forms
the humble can. As Courtney Sherwood
discovers, brewers love the way cans
protect beer quality and the marketing
and logistics advantages they offer
Big Wood: president Jason Medvec believes consumers are starting to be won over by the canned format
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