The Metal Movement – Craft Brewers Can It

When you peruse the craft brew offerings at your local liquor or grocery store, chances are pretty good that your gaze is reflected in shiny glass bottles for the most part. Cans have been limited to big beer companies. However, things are changing and it might not be too long before you see your favorite craft beer in a metal can rather than a curvy glass bottle. What’s up with the shift and who’s leading the charge?

The Argument for Glass

If you ask the average craft beer lover, cans are for the birds. You’ll hear myriad complaints, ranging from cans imparting a metallic taste to the brew to worries about litter and many others. Of course, the taste argument seems to be the most pervasive and persuasive. For older beer drinkers, the metallic taste of beer straight out of can is pretty unforgettable. It’s not a very pleasant experience. Glass doesn’t have that problem.

Glass has long been the container of choice for breweries that wanted to ensure their customers enjoyed the highest quality and best taste, but also wanted to appeal to higher-end buyers. Glass was seen as both a way to protect flavor and a way to highlight quality (low-end breweries used cans, while luxury import breweries used glass bottles). 

The taste issue was (at least at one point) a very real consideration. Older types of cans did indeed impart a metallic taste to their contents, and that was true across the board, from beer to soda and everything in between. Glass, on the other hand, ensured that no off flavors were shifted to the container’s contents. 

However, cans have come a very long way in recent years, and beer drinkers who’ve shunned them for decades because of flavor worries might just find those fears are no longer the reality.

The Argument for Cans

Given the rather unspectacular history of cans in terms of popularity with serious beer lovers, you might be wondering why any self-respecting craft brewer would bother putting their product in a metal container. Actually, there are some pretty good arguments for cans, including the following:

No More Metallic Taste: The largest contributing factor to the humble can’s reduced popularity was the propensity for beer to develop a metallic taste. This was due to a number of reasons, including old manufacturing technology. New cans don’t have that problem. A new lining technology ensures that cans transfer no off flavors to their contents, which guarantees drinkers have the best possible experience with each can. 

Renewable: Glassmakers like to tout glass’s unlimited recycling capabilities. However, it’s not unique in that respect. Metal cans are also virtually endlessly recyclable. That ensures beer lovers who want to do their part for the environment can do so easily. 

Allowed in More Places: How many times have you thought to take a beer with you on a picnic, to the beach or out on the lake in a boat, only to find that glass containers are banned? It’s a frustrating experience, certainly. You can always opt to put your beer in a plastic cup, but that’s not particularly enjoyable. Metal cans, on the other hand, are generally allowed in most areas where glass is banned, giving beer lovers more chances to enjoy their preferred brews.

Lightweight: Glass is beautiful, but it’s certainly not a lightweight material. Compare the weight of a bottled beer to a can, and you’ll find a significant difference. That’s important for both beer lovers and manufacturers. Anyone who’s ever tried to carry a 12-pack of bottles any decent distance knows just how awkward and heavy it becomes in a very short time. The same 12-pack in cans is much lighter and more compact. 

While that’s good news for consumers, it’s also good news for breweries, who often have to pay for shipping based on weight. The lighter the load, the lower the shipping fees, which provides brewers with more money to put back into the brewery to create the beverages you love.

Affordability: While glass might be popular, it’s not the most affordable material in the world. Brewers pay a significant amount of money just for the containers necessary to ship their products. In comparison to glass, cans are incredibly cheap (pennies on the dollar in a side-by-side comparison). And with that savings, brewers have greater liquidity to invest in their breweries – new product lines, new brewing equipment, expanded production facilities. 

Given the advantages offered by cans and the fact that beer lovers won’t have to worry about metallic flavors leeching into their brews, it makes sense that more and more craft brewers are giving this option another look.

Who’s Leading the Charge?

A lot of different craft breweries are either considering the shift to cans, the addition of cans to their bottle lineup or have already made the switch. One of the most notable breweries taking the plunge is Sam Adams. Jim Koch was one of the most vocal detractors of cans for many years, but he’s recently changed his tune. Koch spent several years investigating cans, modern canning technology, lining capabilities and other factors, and is now not only onboard with putting Sam Adams in cans, but is very happy about doing so.

Another brewery going the metal route is Dry Dock Brewing out of Colorado. The company has a growing presence throughout Denver and Colorado as a whole, and made the move to ensure that their beer could “go where their customers did”. The portability factor was what decided them on this course.

In the End

In summation, expect to see more and more craft brews available in metal cans. Don’t worry, though. If you are holding back your approval because you’re worried about the taste, breweries are betting that you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Thanks to the new canning technology available, you should be able to enjoy a canned beer with no taste difference whatsoever to indulging in your favorite brand of suds out of the bottle. 

Posted on March 1, 2013 and filed under Design and Packaging.