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Aluminum

Quality in a can

By Gretchen Salois

How some craft breweries are using aluminum to package their fine brews

January 2011 - Often, consumers relate the snap of a can opening with a cheap, mass-produced beer, not a craft-brewed concoction. However, some breweries are attempting to dispel that association as they package their microbrewed blends in aluminum cans, touting their economical, environmental, overall portability and taste-quality benefits that a glass bottle can’t offer. "There’s a stigma that cheap beer comes in cans," says Chad Melis, marketing director for Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont, Colo. "There’s not a lot of logic or factual information that goes along with that." 

"Aluminum cans restrict UV sunlight from affecting the taste and shortening the shelf life of beer. The canning process allows for less oxygen to enter the can than fastening a bottlecap to the top of a glass bottle. According to the Brewers Association, in September 2009 there were 52 craft brewers. As of May 2010, 78 craft brewers now use cans for their beers and more breweries are expected to follow suit according to BeerNews.org and the Brewers Association.

The canning process
When seaming the top to the can, the machine bends the metal so there are four points of contact in the seal, as opposed to a bottle, which only makes one point of contact when the cap is sealed on top. "It’s aluminum on aluminum," says Melis. "The aluminum allows less oxygen to flow from inside the can to outside the can. Bottles have more levels of oxygen." Melis notes glass has a more porous coating--including the bottle cap. "Even in that one point of contact, the bottlecap allows oxygen to affect the beer," Melis says.

"Having a water-based coating in the can keeps the beer from being tainted by aluminum," says Mike Runion, owner of 7 Seas Brewing Co., Gig Harbor, Wash. The coating maintains the integrity of the beer’s taste and does not leave beer drinkers with a "metallic finish" that makes some beer drinkers wary of drinking quality brews in aluminum cans.

The versatility of aluminum
"We wanted our beer to be versatile--to be able to take it with you outdoors during recreational activities," Runion says. "You can pack it in and out." Growing up next to the water in the Pacific Northwest, Runion hated "stepping on glass while walking along the water or seeing old bottles wash up on shore." Instead of hauling empty beer bottles, "you can crush the cans down," and they are much lighter and easier to transport.

"Manufacturers can ship more cans per shipment than bottles. "We can ship 100 cases per pallet whereas bottles will only ship 60 cases per pallet," Melis says. "You’re burning more fossil fuels to move more loads of beer, and glass weighs more than aluminum. You have to factor in the difference in weight and the need to transport additional weight in more trucks."

More than just a fad
According to the Aluminum Association, Baxter Brewery, Lewiston, Maine, is set to open in January 2011, making it the first craft brewery in New England to can its entire line of beers. "Our beers are made from 70 percent recycled materials, and since New England is such an outdoor activity-centric region, cans go everywhere glass cannot because it’s too dangerous, too cumbersome--like the beach, the sailboat, the golf course and the mountain," Luke Livingston, founder and president of Baxter Brewery told the Aluminum Association.

"From 2003 to 2008, market sales of canned craft beer have grown nationwide from 28.7 percent, while six-pack bottle sales have increased by only 2.8 percent, according to the Brewers Association. "We do 16 ounce cans, in four packs," says Runion. "We’re able to present just as much of our product with six 12 ounce cans." Runion notes his brewery as well as others make it a point to try to be as environmentally friendly as possible. "We bind our cans together and do not use those plastic rings you often see birds getting snagged in," Runion says. "PackTec is leading the way on recyclable-friendly packaging."

"We do a lot of events and hands-on sampling," says Melis. "Once people try our beer in a blind tasting, they’re kind of shocked when they realize that there is quality beer in a can." FFJ

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