Photo by Marc Wisdom
The following article is brought to you by a new contributor to The Jax Beer Guy Blog, Lisa Jarman. Lisa brings a fresh and feminine outlook to the craft beer scene that should appeal to readers of both genders.
Join me in welcoming Lisa to the blog, we look forward to more interesting and engaging articles down the road.
Craft Breweries Take a Can-Do Approach to Packaging
By Lisa Jarman
The concept of craft beer in a can is heavily contested in the industry. Breweries such as Oskar Blues have been doing it successfully for years, while others have stuck to bottles for their packaging needs. But all that could be about to change. Gone is the stigma attached to the beer cans of old, as the beer can makes its comeback with fresh appeal. The aluminium can industry has been working with breweries to develop a can that doesn’t just protect the flavor of the beer it contains, but actually adds a few advantages of its own. The times certainly are a changing, and as the founder of the Boston Beer Co, Jim Koch, puts it, “It’s not your father’s beer can anymore.”
So what are the advantages of the humble can, and can beer really taste as good – or even better – than it does from a bottle?
Extracting aluminium from its ore is an energy intensive operation, and it’s easy to assume that a good old-fashioned glass bottle is going to do less damage to the environment than an aluminium can. However, according to Pablo Paster at Tree Hugger, it takes just 15g of aluminium to hold the same volume of beer as 170g of glass could. This not only cancels out the higher amount of energy required to obtain the aluminium, but also means that the impact of transporting the beer is lower in cans than it is in bottles, as the load is lighter and therefore requires less fuel per centimeter cubed of beer.
Once the can has been emptied and the beer enjoyed, it is apparently more likely that a can will be recycled than a bottle, as the recycling rates for glass are considerably lower than the recycling rates of aluminium. Recycling aluminium also has a greater impact than recycling glass, as the energy required to recycle glass is not far off the amount of energy required to produce it in the first place.
Savoring the taste
Despite the common opinion that beer tastes worse from a can than it does from a bottle, the can does provide benefits to the taste as well as the environment. Paster writes that, according to the founder of the Maui Brewing Company, “beer has three enemies; oxidation, light and heat”, and so breweries are finally coming to recognize that cans can protect the beer from at least two out of the three.
Brian O’Reilly, brewmaster at Sly Fox, praises the can: “Really, the one thing that’s really beautiful about beer in a can is the seal. The double seam on top, the way the end or the lid gets sealed to the can, protects the beer from oxygen much, much better than a crown.”
The can may not be able to protect the beer from the heat, but it can protect it from the light as well as from oxygen, which is not something that can be said of the bottle. This means that beer in a can travels better and can enjoy a longer shelf life than beer in a bottle, and that drinkers can enjoy a better taste. New developments in can production have also led to different lips and lids that come of completely, so making it easier to drink from than an ordinary ring-pull can.
The practicality of a can
The lighter weight of canned beer has already been considered as an environmental advantage, but it’s more practical for consumers, too. A camping trip, barbecue on the beach or even just a walk home from the store is going be a lot easier with a six pack of cans than a six pack of bottles. Given that cans tend to contain a greater volume of beer than bottles, consumers can enjoy more beer for their efforts. Once again, after the beer has been enjoyed, the cans can be crushed down to take up as little space as possible on the journey home, rather than having to carry a cumbersome and clanking bag of bottles back to the car.
Branding, marketing and twenty-first century technology
From the breweries’ perspective, the cans bring far greater advertising possibilities than bottles, in that the entire can can be covered in branding. New technology can also add a little novelty to the can, which can make it more appealing to consumers. This may not be as relevant to smaller craft breweries, but the larger lager companies have certainly been taking advantage of it. Coors, for example, sold its Coors Light in ‘cold-activated cans’, which showed an image of mountains on the can that turned from white to blue as the can cooled to the right temperature. More recently, Budweiser launched its ‘bowtie can‘, created by Annheuser-Busch. Craft beers these are not, but they have certainly attracted some market attention.
The possibilities for decorating cans are far greater than the possibilities for decorating bottles, which presents huge opportunities to breweries either to use the can to attract the attention of consumers, or to increase their revenue through advertising for other companies. There is also the novelty aspect of can decoration – as demonstrated by Budweiser and Coors – which could see companies offering uniquely-decorated cans of beer to their clients, to complement other branded freebies such as cooling can jackets and personalized beer glasses. Other partnerships could spring up in the beer industry, taking their lead from publicity partnerships such as Coca-Cola and John Paul Gaultier. In 2012, the designer teamed up with Coca-Cola to create limited edition cans of Diet Coke. It’s only really the beginning for canned beer, but it wouldn’t be completely surprising if this sort of advertising and branding continued to pop up throughout the industry.
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, if the beer doesn’t taste good then customers won’t keep coming back. It’s all very well offering a gimmick or mildly interesting variation on packaging, but as Koch says: “If it doesn’t make the beer taste better, then don’t do it just to get noticed. The customer will reward you with more of their business if you give them a better tasting product than their alternatives.”