Canning beer: The new trend in craft brewing

Dec 19, 2013

Brewery Vivant's stored cans and kegs of beer
Credit Josh Hirsch

At the Bell's Brewery facility in Comstock, Bell's is putting the finishing touches on a new canning facility. Jeff Carter is the facilities manager for Bell's. He says the brewery hopes to start canning its most popular seasonal beer, Oberon, by next summer.

But for now, their mini keg line is the closest thing Bell's has to canning. Carter says there are many benefits to canning beer. 

The canning line for Bell's Brewery's mini kegs of Oberan
Credit Josh Hirsch

“One of the things that can affect the quality of beer is UV sunlight, which is why beer is almost always put in a brown bottle cause brown glass filters that out more than any of the other glass does," says Carter. "However, a can filters that out even more.”

Carter says cans are also lightweight, which makes them easier to ship.

“So when you get into markets that are very particular about the weight, in particular airlines...airlines will not put a glass bottle on the plain because it just ways too much," Carter says. "Which is why you notice all their little liquor bottles are plastic. So they want either an aluminum can or a plastic bottle. So by going into cans that opens that market up to us.”

And cans are permitted more places than bottles are.

“Golf courses, sporting events, most lakes won’t allow you to have glass on them," says Carter. "So that also opens up those markets to us.”

One downside to canning beer—it's much more expensive. Most brewers have to buy factory equipment in order to have a canning line. And many new micro breweries can't afford that. Kerry O’Donohue is vice president of Saugatuck Brewing. He says Saugatuck found a way to cut the cost.

“So along comes this two person business called Michigan Mobile Canning," O'Donohue explains. "And what they do is they bring the canning line to you, literally on wheels out of a truck. And they roll it in to the brew house and up on the brew pad and the beer gets pumped in and out comes the cans.”

Jason Spaulding, the president of Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, was skeptical of canning his beer at first. But then he found out how much better cans are for the environment.

“All the cans that we use have a minimum of 68 percent recycled content which is nice," Spaulding says. "And aluminum turns out to be the most recycled substance on earth, so the speed to which it gets made into something else is very fast. And aluminum is often either made back into cans of equal value or it can be up-cycled into a higher value product as well.”

Spaulding says one of the biggest stereotypes of cans is that the taste of beer becomes compromised once it touches aluminum.

“But now with that technology’s improved there is a liner that goes inside cans, it’s the same liner that’s in all like a can of coke, or green beans, or whatever. It’s the same kind of liner and it protects the beer from ever touching aluminum," he says. "And once you get rid of that metallic flavor issue, your beer is actually better protected than a bottle is.”  

Brewery Vivant doesn’t offer any of their products in bottles. Spaulding says this will ultimately help the canning movement:

“We thought it would be interesting to do these Belgium style beers but only available in cans to kind of push peoples thoughts on what good beer is and how it is packaged. And we get people still when their first new to seeing craft beer in cans, they’ll—even though the can says it’s an imperial stout—they open up that can and they think it’s going to be a really light lager that comes out of it. Just cause that’s what people are conditioned to. And then they try the beer and they think it’s going to—they are very skeptical—they think it’s going to taste funny or something. And it tastes great and then we win people over. Its just a great way to get our beers freshest as it can from our brewery to the people.”