Suzanne Callander finds out what all the fuss is about canned craft beer and why the on-trade should stock them. Have you got the bottle to give cans a go?
There can be no doubting that beer in cans is gaining in popularity, and quality. It is no longer the domain of cheap, fizzy and often tasteless mass-produced beer, as the craft beer sector have jumped on board having identified an opportunity to maintain the original flavour of their beer for longer.
The EeBriaTrade website, for example, currently lists canned beers from 18 different breweries. “When we launched cans to the site in October last year they were being offered by just four breweries,” said Chris Imlach of EeBria Trade. “We see cans as a rapidly growing trend and there is no sign of it slowing down because cans work for everyone – breweries, the on-trade and customers all want fresher beer.”
Craft breweries are using a variety of canning options. Smaller breweries, or those new to canning, often use the services of a mobile canning line that is brought to the brewery. A mobile canning service will, typically, cater for batches as low as 800 litres. Contact canning services are also available for larger quantities, where the beer is shipped to the canning line.
the branding and design that is possible on a canned product makes it stand out to the consumer
According to The Can Makers, the trade body representing the UK companies responsible for the manufacture of beverage cans, it is the branding and design that is possible on a canned product that makes it stand out to the consumer. There has been a great deal of technology advances around the inks and coatings used to decorate cans and this offers an exciting opportunity for the often innovative individuals who inhabit the craft beer sector.
Packaging beer in cans does not require the brewer to change any part of their production process and according to The Can Makers, there is no reason that an unpasteurised beer should not be put into a can. “We know of a number of IPAs, Pilsners lagers, stouts and porters already available in cans. We haven’t come across any style yet that doesn’t work,” said a spokesperson. Indeed, the final of the Indie Beer Can Festival this year includes four ales, four lagers, two stouts, a porter and two wheat beers competing for the top prize.
The canned craft beer trend is no flash-in-the-pan and looks set to continue for the longer-term as more craft breweries in the UK are investing in their own canning line equipment, including Beavertown, FourPure, Concrete Cow, BrewDog and Moor Beer Company.
Beavertown is one of the craft beer canning champions in the UK. It canned its first beer in 2014. The brewery founder, Logan Plant, was in the US at a time when the craft beer market was becoming much more experimental in terms of the styles of beer and the hops being used. Logan noticed that a lot of the US craft breweries were also starting to package their beer in cans. Nick Dwyer at Beavertown explained why. “Beer uses a lot of fresh and volatile ingredients – hops in particular. Putting beer into cans helps to maintain the original quality of the beer because no light or oxygen reaches the beer. Even with brown glass bottles light strike will still have an effect on the taste of the beer. The bottling process also allows more oxygen into the product than the canning process and, again, oxygen alters the flavour of the beer.
“We invested in a canning line because we wanted to ensure that our beer could be drunk in the same fresh state that it left the brewery and packaging it into cans allows us to do this,” said Nick.
cans will help chill the beer down to temperature more quickly
Other benefits of cans include the fact that they are easier and lighter to transport than bottles. Cans will help chill the beer down to temperature more quickly. They can also be stacked to get more into the fridge and there is less chance of product waste through breakages. They are also easier for pubs to store before recycling as they can be crushed to save space.
“When we first started canning we packaged 50/50 cans to bottles in addition to our kegged beers,” continued Nick. “We really weren’t sure what sort of reaction we would get to the cans. There is a natural assumption that bottles are a premium packaged product and we thought we would have to do a lot of marketing to highlight the benefits of cans. So we were really surprised at how quickly they were accepted. Within a few months we were canning 95% of our beer and today we don’t bottle any of our core range beers,” said Nick.
BrewDog currently cans around 20% of its product, including the recently launched Black Eyed King Imp, which is believed to be the world’s strongest canned ale at 12.7% ABV. However, following the installation of a new canning line it is expecting to ramp up canned production, hitting new markets and offering its Headliner & Amplified beers in new sizes.
“Cans are awesome containers as they omit two of the greatest enemies of beer – light and oxygen – which affects not only the flavour, but the aroma of the beer. Cans eliminate the chance of either of these things happening and ensures that the beer reaches customers in pristine condition,” said Sarah Warman, head of marketing at BrewDog.
“This means that on-trade venues have less to worry about when it comes to the quality of the beer they serve. As long as they rotate stock and keep it chilled, it’ll reach the customer in the best possible state. Additionally, if the on-trade decide to offer take-out beers, cans are the ideal vessel in which to offer it as they are lightweight and easy to carry.”
Moor Beer Company also believes strongly in the market for canned beer, having recently invested almost £400,000 in a new canning line. Justin Rivett of Moor Beer Company said: “Once you have made the initial investment, the cost of canning is not hugely different to that of bottling and we are seeing so many benefits of cans over bottles. They are lighter in weight and are easier to store. Cans are more robust and are 100% recyclable so they are good for the environment too. Today, the only beers that we do not put into cans are our aged beers. For the on-trade, I believe that cans can offer particular benefits to food-led establishments, who often do not have large amounts of space available for storage,” concludes Justin.
Magic Rock Brewing is another brewery to have invested in its own canning line. Currently it is putting some of its most popular beers into cans, including its Salty Kiss Gooseberry Gose; High Wire Grapefruit Pale Ale; and Cannonball IPA.
“Around 30% of our production is currently canned but this is likely to increase past 50/60% in the next six months,” said Richard Burhouse, a founder of Magic Rock. The next beers the brewery will be putting into cans includes its Rapture Red Hop Ale, High Wire West Coast Pale Ale, and Dark Arts Stout.
Richard did issue a note of caution for publicans about cans, which he says is not a foolproof process: “The quality of the product will always depend on the quality of canning equipment used as well as the quality control process prior to the beer entering the canning line.”
So, the march of canned beer trend looks set to continue at a great pace, offering your customers the opportunity to taste the beer as the brewery intended it to taste. It offers you space saving benefits to, in the store room, the fridge and in your recycling area. What’s not to like about cans!
Editor’s comment: We can only see the demand for canned craft beer growing. If you stock canned craft beer we’d love to hear from you about why you added them to your range. And if you are, or are planning to, produce your own canned craft beer please get in touch too. We think the Host audience would like to hear about your plans.