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Beer: The Rise Of The Can

Craft brewers are increasing the popularity of the modest "tinny".

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on September 26, 2011. @piers_fawkes

As a Brit, I’m pretty familiar with the can – that’s how beer outside the pub tends to be bought in the UK. But where I live today, the US, beer is generally bought from stores in bottled form. Sales of canned beer represent a tiny fraction that of bottled ale but PSFK has been monitoring signals that this might all change. Craft beer companies seem to be adopting the packaging and mainstream grocers are pushing them.

Although the packaging has been in use for over 50 years in America, the image of the beer can is still generally associated with low priced, blue-collar booze. We first noticed a can sold in a more future-forward establishment when New York’s Ace Hotel opened. Then, their bar sold just one canned variety – Pork Slap – but their current drinks menu contains three canned beers including Guinness.

I asked some of the team at brand innovation agency Sylvain Labs about this trend and based on their experience working in the beverage sector they said that there were several reasons why the can is becoming popular: it’s argued that the metal can retains the beer tastes better, there’s less waste (no air in the neck) and the cost of transport is less as the packaging is lighter.

If you look around, you can see the idea of canned beer being introduced to a broader audience. Today, at the Whole Foods Market on New York’s Houston Street in New York, the chiller by the checkout looks awfully grown up. Much of the soda seems to have been removed and there are several shelves of canned beers presented to tempt the shoppers waiting in line.

I decided to ask our PurpleList experts on whether they thought this was a trend and many agreed. Several of those who gave responses said that the craft beer movement was driving this trend. Lloyd Alter did suggest a word of caution about assuming that cans are all good more sound: the Treehugger editor and PurpleList member said that cans are lined with Bisphenol A and that they were introduced to attack the recyclable bottle. That said, Cassondra Schindler was quick to point out that in the growing craft beer category cans have been used as a point of differentiation from the previous standard of glass bottles.

Schindler adds that 75 craft breweries are now producing beer in cans. These beer companies are turning to the humble beer can to provide drinkers with better beer and a differentiated experience.

Thinking...