Once the domain of American lagers like Budweiser and Miller, aluminum cans have grown from craft beer novelty to the preferred delivery system for many small breweries.
The appeal is that cans keep beer fresh by sealing out oxygen and light, are easier to chill, carry and recycle, and are more environmentally friendly to ship and store. But there’s also the cool factor, with can designs now rivaling bottle labels in creativity.
Colorado’s Oskar Blues was the pioneer, first packaging its iconic Dale’s Pale Ale on a newly developed small canning system in 2002. A decade later, Marietta’s Red Hare was the first Georgia craft brewery to install a canning line, releasing its Long Day Lager in cans in 2012.
Two of Georgia’s newest and most adventurous breweries, Creature Comforts and Orpheus, recently joined the canned beer ranks, after getting started with portfolios that included only kegged draft beer.
Creature Comforts, which opened in a remodeled tire store in downtown Athens in May, set up its canning line in early September and launched its first two canned beers, juicy, fruity Tropicália American IPA and tart, refreshing Athena Berliner Weisse, in early November. The brewery also doubled its capacity in anticipation of the canned demand.
“Being an IPA, Tropicália is about 50 percent of our business, which is pretty standard with the craft industry, so getting that one out there in cans made perfect sense,” says Creature Comforts CEO, Chris Herron.“Putting the Berliner Weisse in a can was something a little different. Athena is a year-round offering that kind of helps show off the other side of our brewery, the Brettanomyces and barrel-aged and sour beers, to as many people as possible.”
Herron says canned beer was part of the Creature Comforts business plan from day one.
“We ordered the canning line prior to opening. It was just a matter of how long it takes, because there’s a waiting list to get them right now. But it was worth the wait, because we truly believe it’s the superior packaging, especially for a small craft brewery.”
Atlanta’s Orpheus Brewing, which debuted on Memorial Day with a brewery that overlooks sections of the Atlanta Beltline and Piedmont Park, specializes in Belgian-style saisons, sour and barrel-aged beers. In early November, Orpheus released its two flagship beers in cans, Atalanta, a tart, sour mash saison with fresh plum juice, and Lyric Ale, a hoppier saison. Each is decorated with designs by Atlanta artists.
“It was awesome getting those out in cans,” says Orpheus founder and brewmaster, Jason Pellett. “They are selling fast and it’s in places that we couldn’t be otherwise. The sour stuff is easier to sell at retail than it is in some bars and restaurants on draft.”
Like Creature Comforts, Orpheus recently expanded its production capacity, but has yet to install its own canning line. Instead it uses Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Toucan Mobile Canning, which trucks its canning line to the brewery to package beers on-site. Pellett sees Toucan as another sign of the growth of craft brewing and the vitality of craft beer in cans.
“There have been mobile bottlers doing wine for a long time,” Pellett says.“This a great thing for small breweries. They can do 80-90 barrels in a day, which translates to about 1,200 cases of beer. We’re planing to have them come back every three weeks or so to do three days here. We see cans as the majority of our growth in the coming year. It really gets us into an amazing number of new places — more than I expected, really. And we will be canning more beers and seasonal sours soon.”
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