Everyone is talking about cans. For years – really, years – writers covering the beer industry have written stories on a near monthly basis about this “hot, new trend” in craft beer: breweries putting beer into cans.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves and it shows no signs of stopping. I recognize that part of it, as Norman Miller points out, is that the very average person (Elderly? WAKA WAKA.) may still be curious about cans and not understand why companies use cans.
From my biased, curmudgeon, Old Man Yells At Cloud point of view, it’s time to move beyond stories highlighting when a brewery puts liquid into a can. This is not innovative, this is not new and after several years of this happening within the space of craft beer, it is no longer a trend. It is a norm. According to tracking by the Brewers Association, about 2 percent of craft beer volume was going into cans in 2011. It was up to 10 percent in 2014, an increase of about 2 million barrels of beer.
I don’t have specific numbers beyond that, but I imagine your anecdotal experience aligns with mine and we can safely assume the percentage is much higher halfway through 2016. According to craftcans.com, 550 different breweries can 2,162 beers today.
Putting craft beer into a can is no longer a news story. It’s a press release.
So what the hell is there to actually write about cans? Beats the hell out of me, but guess I’ll try.
Some reasons more cans may be appearing. Q1 IRI sales:
6-pack cans: +65.6%
12-pack cans: +28.9%
4-pack cans: +65%
— BryanDRoth (@BryanDRoth) July 28, 2016
This year-to-year increase is skewed because of the sheer volume of more cans appearing at retail outlets, but part of it certainly aligns with the fact that people are buying canned beer. Hell, even Founders All Day IPA 15-packs, as far as I know, the only such sized packaging in the industry, was up 183 percent during this time frame compared to 2015.
More sales means higher levels of comfort buying canned beer (whatever the hell that means to consumers, who are still frightened by aluminum, I guess) means greater proliferation of cans. It’s cyclical. Let’s not go overboard and write another dozen stories about how cool cans are.
— BryanDRoth (@BryanDRoth) July 30, 2016
In this context, I’m paying attention to the lower half of that chart focusing on beer bottles and growlers. The bottle part is easy: if more breweries are shifting packaging into cans or simply adding cans as a secondary means of packaging alongside bottles, sure, those requests are set to drop.
The growler thing is more interesting, because there are all sorts of reasons, from state laws (what and how you can fill) or the fact growler collections steadily grow (certain businesses will only fill their own). But I’d be really curious to better understand the impact of Oskar Blues’ Crowler, which seems more ubiquitous at places around me.
A partnership with Ball Corporation, U.S. breweries and bottle shops bought a little over 400 Crowler machines and 1.3 million Crowler cans in 2015. According to Jason Dan, Crowler specialist as Oskar Blues, both Texas and California bought the most Crowler machines during that time span, with bottle shops being an increasingly popular customer.
When I spoke this past winter to Jason and his colleague, Jeremy Rudolph, Oskar Blues’ Crowler CANministrator, they told me the cost for the machine was around $3,600 and orders for cans, which sell for 43 cents each, can’t go lower than 114 at a time. The average order for Crowler cans is a pallet of 2,400 at a cost of $1,032. That tells me that buyers feel confident in the machine and product because consumers are happy with cans.
Thanks to the entrepreneurship of those seeing an opportunity within the beer industry, finding ways to can beer is also getting easier.
Mobile canning companies can be found in many major markets, from North Carolina to Indiana to California and everywhere in between.
“There’s no end of customers in sight,” Michael Horn, owner of Old Dominion Mobile Canning, told the Raleigh News & Observer. “Our pipeline is full.”
Horn’s company, based in Virginia, covers areas across the Mid-Atlantic and will fill more than 3 million cans in 2016.
A big part of that is cost of entry. For breweries who focus on draft sales initially – and bringing people into your taproom is not only popular, but pivotal – working with mobile canning units is a great step in the direction of packaging regularly. In Indiana, ICan charges as low as $1,600 for a 100-case run.
The Common Sense
I realize that from a consumer standpoint, it may be fun to have some of our favorite beers in a different, more portable package. As beer continues to fight for occasion-specific drinking sessions – cookouts and holidays make summer the most important beer sales time of the year – cans offer another avenue for businesses to access in an ongoing fight for share of dollars between spirits and wine.
But when it comes to being newsworthy, at least for the time being, we can give it a rest. I realize Lagunitas’ Tony Magee said four years ago he would never use cans and now his brewery is canning, but mistaking one of beer’s most outspoken personalities and his hyperbole as newsworthiness needs a second thought before putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. This is a man who works in grandiose statements.
At this point, we’ve moved well beyond the need to continually share stories about how cans are safe or cool or portable or whatever. We no longer have to write hundreds of words when we hear about a brewery – young or old – is going to use cans as a packaging of choice.
Those who can, do. Those who can’t, bottle. Let’s leave it at that.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac