‘Yes We Can’
Craft Beermaker's Say
Remember the 12-ounce beer can? Sure you do, because it never really went away, but was thoroughly trumped in recent years by the sleek elegance of glass bottles. Don’t be too quick to kick this can to the curb though. The humble vessel is making a steady comeback even among sophisticated craft beer devotees.
There are good reasons to keep the tops popping, chief among them the proven superiority of sealed aluminum in maintaining beer’s integrity. “The can will always be one of the best vessels for beer because it protects against the two sworn enemies — light and oxygen,” says Chris Ashby, Chicago Beverage Systems. The scientific explanation: beers made with traditional hops contain isomerized alpha acids, which produce a potent, skunky sulfur compound when exposed to strong light, while exposure to oxygen causes the beer to decompose too quickly. Both can make a good beer go bad, and glass bottles can’t deliver the same protective power as a can, which functions like a mini-keg, keeping light and oxygen well away from the beer inside. Brown glass can screen out damaging ultraviolet light, green glass offers less protection, and clear glass offers almost none, while bottle caps can’t seal out oxygen as efficiently as a sealed can, according to the Brewers’ Association. As for the tinny flavor that was part of the pre-craft beer experience — it’s no more than a metallic memory now, as modern cans are completely lined, allowing no raw metal to touch the beer.
“Huge advances in canning technology over the years have erased the stigma of the product inside being of lesser quality, and now some of the largest, most respected craft brewers in the country are using cans,” says Patrick Gould, Windy City Distributing. A better sustainability story and greater efficiencies in storing and shipping all boost the can’s rising profile.
With growing popularity comes innovation, and that means the traditional 12-ounce isn’t the only one leading the pack. Both Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery, staking claim to America’s first craft beer in a can, and Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery have gone all in on the can, with size varieties and unique packaging. Oskar Blues ramps it up with a 19.2-ounce offering, while Sixpoint reinvented the 12-ounce in slim, stackable cans, with ample room for the company’s distinctive imagery and quotable ‘beer is culture’ tagline. Also lining the shelves are 32-oz. cans, 24-ounce “Tall Boy” cans, 16-ounce pint sizers, and at the other end of the spectrum, 8-ounce cans, ideal for beer sessions and health-minded imbibers.
There’s no shortage of brews behind glass, though, as bottles still command more than half of the craft beer market. “The consumer perceives it as a fancier drinking experience,” says Gould. Sizes and shapes run the gamut, from 12- and 16-ounce long-neck and heritage-style bottles, to 22-ounce and 750ml champagne styles that typically house specialty beers with higher ABV and complex flavor profiles. Limited edition beers are frequently bottled for maximum swank appeal, and let’s face it, “there will always be a segment who prefers bottles,” says Ashby.
Also finding its voice are growlers, capturing everything most valued by the Millennials who fueled the craft beer phenom from the start —fresh, pure products delivered in a completely sustainable way. These 64-ounce glass jugs are filled right at the pub or restaurant tap, sealed with wax or plastic shrink wrap, and taken home and enjoyed by the customer within 72 hours. Throwbacks to the days of glass milk bottle delivery, refills are offered when growlers and their owners return them to their original brewmaster.
Even the sturdy keg is rolling out some novel new ways to get the beer from point A to point B with one-way kegs. Heineken’s Brewlock, for example, moves from traditional steel half barrel to a recyclable plastic keg that no longer needs to make return trips across the ocean; and Key Keg, entering the U.S. market with its own lightweight alternative to a steel keg.
So what’s next, beer in a bag? Actually yes … look for the brand-new Synek System, a countertop appliance that chills and pressurizes reinforced bags of beer dispensed through a chamber. Launched early in 2015, the ‘Keurig for beer’ may prove an interesting competitor to the growler, topping it with a 30-day shelf life for up to 128 ounces of beer. With a heftier price tag of $299, however, Gould views it as more of a gift item. “It’s a significant investment for the casual home drinker, but if you want to try some of brands on tap only available in a brew pub, it’s a cool way to enjoy the experience.”