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Craft Beer in Cans

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The movement of craft beer from bottles to cans (aka the tinny), is beginning to gather real pace. In the last 2 years we have seen rapid growth of craft beer in cans. There are a number of reasons for this. We take a look at this quickly evolving trend of craft beer in cans below and also the history of the beer can.

The Benefits of Craft Beer in Cans

Can are Simply the Best Vessel for Maintaining the Quality of Craft Beer.

Cans eliminate the potential for beer to be " light struck" (where a skunk-like flavour exists), as the can removes 100% of light from reaching the beer.

Cans also have a tighter seal than bottles, which stops any gases from getting into or leaking from the vessel. This is known as a hermetic seal. It effectively helps reduce the rate at which the beer  oxidises.

These two reasons alone mean the quality of the beer you enjoy is better.

Cans are Perfect for the Australian Outdoors

Cans chill down faster than bottles. Throw the can in the esky or snowy mountain river (or even your fridge at home), and you will see it cools much faster than its bottled counterpart.

This is due to two reasons:

  1. The thickness of the aluminium is much thinner than glass, in fact 0.065 mm thick, as thin as a human hair. This means any change in temperature, will happen more rapidly.
  2. Cans have better thermal conductivity than glass. In simple terms this means it requires less energy to cool cans, and as a result can be achieved faster. Think of a pot on the stove, if you have ever used a tin pot you would have noticed this heats up much faster in comparison to an iron pot due to its better thermal conductivity.

Cans are also much lighter than their glass counterpart. Two 330ml cans thrown in a pack will weigh around 700 grams, while two 330ml bottles will weigh in at approximately 1,300 grams. That 600 gram difference means it will be much easier to climb hills without the extra weight burden.

Cans are also much more efficient in terms of storage size. Two cans are roughly the same size as one bottle. If you want to save on space, go the can!

Dales Pale Ale

Cans Save Space in the Fridge

If you don’t have a separate beer fridge, you like most Australian consumers will know that your fridge storage space is precious. Cans simply mean you can double the amount of beers kept in the fridge at any one time – that is space maximisation right there!

Cans make it Easier and Cheaper for Breweries to Ship Large Amounts of Beer

Shipping beer, whether in Australia or sending it to, or bringing it from, overseas is a costly task. Anything that can be done for the brewer or importer to achieve a cost savings, means at the end of the day the price of the beer will be less.

Shipping cans compared to glass bottles means savings can be achieved:

  • More beer can be shipped at once. With two cans the equivalent of one glass bottle in size it means for every pallet of beer, twice as much can be transported. Essentially that means the transport cost per unit goes down. That is what you call bi-winning!
  • Beer in cans is lighter. As we mentioned previously, the weight of a beer can is approximately half that of a beer bottle. This means where freight is charged on a weight basis, the comparative weight will be lower.
  • Cans keep the beer in better condition. With cans able to stop light strike and reduce oxidation, it means for the brewer that the beer is kept in much better condition, before it is received and enjoyed by the consumer.
  • Cans reduce breakages. Glass is a highly fragile product. Nobody likes the prospect of crying over spilt beer from a glass breakage. Cans are a much more durable product, helping to alleviate this issue of potential breakage.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Cans are Better for the Needs of Craft Breweries

From a marketing and production perspective, cans are the ideal packaging format for craft breweries. This is due to four reasons:

  1. Cans have a greater surface area for branding. While the size of the label able to be applied a bottle is limited, effectively the whole of can is able to be used. From a marketing perspective it means the can is better for communicating the various messages the brewery wants to tell.
  2. The unit price of the can is cheaper compared to bottles. This provides another saving that can be passed onto the consumer.
  3. Cans represent a more efficient bottling process. Provided that cans have been pre-printed, it means the canning process simply requires the can to be rinsed, filled with the beer, and then the can lid applied. In contrast bottles will have an extra step with the label needing to be applied at the end of the bottling cycle. This an extra step takes more time, and can presents another potential issue that needs to be addressed during the maintenance of any bottling line.
  4. Silver Bullets and Wraps allow the creation of labels for limited release beers without significant expenditure. Printing cans can be expensive, with the minimum run of a printed can produced often quite sizable. Silver Bullets involves a brewery using an unbranded can and applying a label to it at the end of the canning process. A great example of a brewery that does this is Modus Operandi. They use a standardised can, with a label applied which covers only a limited amount of the can, but clearly conveys what the beer is. A wrap meanwhile works in a similar way, taking the unbranded can and then applying a wrap around the entire can. An example of a brewery that does this is the Australian Brewery. Both approaches allowing for easy customisation of cans, making it a great vessel to use for creating limited release specialty beers. It also means the unit cost of buying the unbranded cans is lower as a much greater amount of cans are able to be purchased at any one time.

Cans are Perfect for Use in Outdoor Venues

Whether it be stadiums, concerts, or sporting events, cans are the perfect packaging where glass is not permitted.

Cans are Better for the Environment

Cans have a number of environmentally friendly strengths:

  1. Cans have a higher rate of recycling compared to glass. Metal cans are also 100% and infinitely recyclable, able to be recycled again and again without any loss of performance. It is reported that the average can today contains around 70 percent recycled metal The can that is recycled today can be back on shelves in as little as two months.
  2. Recycling aluminium is actually utilises 95% less energy than creating aluminium from raw materials, providing a great incentive for recycling of cans.
  3. Cans can be crushed down smaller. Where a consumer has chosen not to recycling, there are still environmental benefits in that the vessel will take up less room in any garbage.

Cans Provide Reassurance from a Food Safety Perspective

Cans are both tamper-resistant and tamper-evident – if a can has been open it is immediately clear. This provides peace of mind that the product contained within, is exactly the same as when it was first bottled.

Sierra Nevada Why Cans?

The Myth of the Aluminium Taste in Cans

A common misconception that consumers point to as a reason why they won’t buy beer in cans is they think they can taste the aluminium can in the beer. This is a true beer myth. Beer cans have an aqueous polymer liner (plastic lining) that means the beer never comes into contact with the aluminium can. The next person you hears that says they can taste the aluminium in the beer, tell them they are talking absolute nonsense!

The Taste Difference between Bottles and Cans

Further to aluminium taste myth,  Sierra Nevada Brewing, one of the world leaders in craft beer, also tested the idea that a flavour difference could exist between their bottles and cans. After extensive sensory and analytical analysis there was no evidence to suggest this. In hundreds of double-blind trials there was no statistical or analytical difference in the flavours. There was literally no difference between the beer in the can and the beer in the bottle.

Among some corners in the cans vs bottles debate, there was also suggestion that the plastic lining in cans could take (scalp), some of the flavour from the beer. For Sierra Nevada, this argument did not hold up in their lab analysis. While the plastic lining in the cans had the potential to scalp some of the flavour, it was found the crown liner (the plastic liner in the bottle cap) had the potential to have a more detrimental effect on flavour, specifically hop flavour.

Sierra Nevada’s research showed “little-to-slight deviation in longevity and hop aroma trials over extended aging”. It in fact gave cans a slight edge in quality after 120 days of storage.

How is a Beer Can Made?

Sierra Nevada have a great explanation of this on their blog. Essentially the beer can begins as a massive strip of aluminium roll which is then cut into circles. The circles then undergo a process of shaping, where they are stretched into the general shape of a can. Through this can creation process, approximately 2,000 cans are created per minute!

After this shaping process the can is then washed and dried, has its design applied, and its curved “neck” formed. It is then inspected for defects, sprayed with an epoxy liner, before finally being cured at high temperatures to create the final product.

Sierra Nevada’s aluminium circles (left hand corner), on their way to becoming cans.

A History of Beer Cans

The very first beer can sold was on January 24, 1935, when cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale went on sale in Richmond, Virginia in the US.

While these two beers were the first in this packaging format, the actual history of the can dates back 14 months prior, just before the repeal of  Prohibition. Here the American Can Company engineered a workable beer can, they just needed a brewer that would take on the risk of using it.

Krueger’s Cream Ale and Krueger’s Finest Beer

Krueger’s Cream Ale and Krueger’s Finest Beer.

The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company was just that company. By the end of November 1933 they had installed a temporary canning line and had 2,000 cans filled with a 3.2% Krueger beer, which was the highest alcohol allowable at the time.

In a taste test experiment, the 2,000 Krueger cans were giving to Krueger drinkers of whom 91% gave the beer the thumbs up, with most stating the beer tasted more like the beer on tap, than bottled beer.

These first cans were made of tin, while the interior liner was a typically plastic or sometimes waxy substance, which helped to keep the beer's flavour from being ruined by a chemical reaction with the metal.

Cone Top / Flat Top Style Cans

The original beer cans created were a flat top can with no actual opening within the can. To open the vessel a tool called a church key was used to pierce the can. Back then the cans were around 3mm thick, even with this handy tool there was still a lot of effort required to open the can.

The church key tool latched onto the top rim for leverage; as the handle was lifted it would force the sharp tip through the top of the can, cutting a triangular hole. A smaller second hole was then usually punched on the opposite side of the can to allowing air into the can while pouring, so the liquid to flow freely.

Church Key Tool and Example Pierced Can

Church key tool and an example of a pierced can.

Aluminium Cans

The first aluminium was created for the Hawaii Brewing Company packaged beer in 1958. This can was all aluminium with a paper label.

Bill Coors was reportedly one of the drivers behind the widespread use of aluminium cans in the beer industry. In 1959 he came up with a two-piece aluminium can to sell his product. Aluminium cans had some significant packaging benefits over tin cans which were immediately clear; the cans were more easily formed, and could resist corrosion and rust.

In developing the aluminium can Bill Coors also helped to establish a can recycling scheme, with his company promising one penny for every empty can returned to the company.

Pull Tab or Tab Top Style Cans

The creation of a tab for opening the beers, rather than having to use a churchkey dates back to 1959, with Ermal Cleon Fraze credited for the innovation. His invention was the "pull-tab". This worked by attaching an aluminium pull-ring lever with a rivet to a pre-scored wedge-shaped tab section of the can top. When the pull-tab was pulled it created an opening that was big enough to let air flow in, and beer to flow out. While the pull-tab suddenly made opening a beer much easier it did have one downside; people would frequently discard the pull-tabs on the ground as litter, or drop them into the can and then risk choking on them.

Can with Pull Tab attached.

Stay Tab Style Cans

The next innovation in the beer can world was the Stay Tab, which was developed in the 1970s. This tab design worked as a lever, opening the beer can by using the can ring as a lever to push down into the pre-scoured part of the can, thereby opening a hole in the can. The Stay Tab concept remains used in cans across the world today.

Stay Tab Can.

A History of Craft Beer Cans

The first craft brewery to start upon the beer can trend was Oskar Blues in the United States. In 2002 they began canning their beers and were way ahead of the trend.

Their move to cans was driven by the ability to get a canning line super cheap. In 1999, Cask Brewing Systems introduced a small, manual machine that could can two 355ml beers at a time. It had a price tag of less than USD$10,000 at a time when even used canning machines routinely sold for six figures. The machine was originally aimed at brew-on-premises retailers. However, when that trend fizzled, Cask turned to craft brewers. Oskar Blues was its first American client.

Today, cans have taken off in a big way. In the US around one in six breweries have a canning line, including some of the largest breweries such as Sierra Nevada, Victory and Founders Brewing to name a few.

While the trend to cans continues, so has demand for canning lines. Cask Brewing Systems has now installed over 600 canning lines in over 34 different countries in the world. They are also the official supplier of the world’s largest producer of aluminium cans, from Ball Corporation.

Can Technology

Alongside the can lining which prevents any contact between the aluminium can and the beer, there are continuous developments in canning technology. The first generation of aluminium cans weighed approximately 85 grams per unit. Today’s cans weigh less than 14 grams each!

Completely Removable Can Lids

One of the great technological can developments can be seen in  Colonial’s Small Ale, which has a completely removable can lid. This allows the can to essentially be used as a beer glass. 

Example of a can with 100% removable lid.

Normally we always recommend that beer be drunk from a glass rather than from the bottle or can. This is because a glass allows the drinker to visually see the beer, as we taste with our eyes. Plus it allows for the release of the aromatics from the beer, with the aroma contributing strongly to the flavour of the beer.

While the Colonial Small Ale won’t allow you to easily see the true colour of the beer, by removing the entire lid of the can it does allow for release of the aromatics of the beer, which means a more flavourful beer than if you were simply drinking from the standard enclosed can.

Nitrogen Gas in Beer Cans

Another example of can technology is the use of nitrogen gas in beer cans. This originated with Guinness and its famous widget technology. Here a hollow plastic sphere is filled with liquid nitrogen, with the nitrogen gas then released when the can opens. The presence of the nitrogen in the beer creates added creaminess to the beer, and a fluffy white head, seeking to replicate the draught beer experience of Guinness beer.

In the craft beer world, the brewery leading the way in Nitro Beer in cans is Vault Brewing from the USA. Vault is the first craft brewery worldwide to master the science of canning a Nitrogen beer without a widget. While Left Hand Brewing had only a few years earlier pioneered nitrogen in beer bottles, adding nitrogen to cans was an even harder process. This was due to the fact that Vault Brewing used a gravity-flow filler, whereby each can is filled in an oxygenated environment, and a nitrogen “dose” is added to the brew. Once added to the brew the full nitrogen effect is realised by a “hard vertical pour” into the glass, allowing the full waterfall effect of the nitrogen cascading through the glass to be seen. The technique has since been adopted by a number of other breweries, including  Mornington Peninsula Brewery in Australia.

Mornington Peninsula Nitro ESB Can

How to Quickly Chill Your Beer Can

If you need to chill you beer down quickly try this great trick.

  • 1.Grab a chux cloth, wet it with cold water, and wrap it around your can (or bottle)
  • 2.Place the beer with the with the cloth attached into the freezer
  • 3.Wait 15 minutes and you’ll have a nice cold beer to enjoy!

Beer Can Appreciation Day

Are you a fan of craft beer in cans? Celebrate the great vessel with Beer Can Appreciation Day. Held annually on January 24 th this celebrates the great day in 1935 when beer was first sold in cans.

Fun Can Fact

Cans made from aluminium easily support the carbonation pressure required to package beer and withstand pressures of up to 90 pounds per square inch. Believe it or not, four six packs can support a 2-ton vehicle!

Check out our range of great craft beer cans here.

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