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Monday, March 7, 2011

Weaning ourselves off the bottle: craft beer goes can

By Greg 'Swig' Johnson

Chances are if you frequent Siciliano's Market or any other quality beer store you've noticed the slow but steady influx of craft beer varieties packaged in aluminum cans. Over the past several years, the use of aluminum has been adopted by around 100 craft breweries in North America, with more breweries steadily signing up. In Michigan, Keweenaw Brewing in Houghton leads the canned beer revolution. It seems appropriate that a brewery from the UP -- the land of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor can-friendly activities -- would race to the forefront of this up-and-coming packaging format. Other breweries aren't far behind, however. Arcadia, Shorts, and Vivant all have plans to can in the near future.

Not to be outdone by their west-side brethren, a number of east-side breweries have already made the move to aluminum. MillKing It! Productions in Royal Oak, Those Guys Beer in Lake Orion, and Rochester Mills Brewing all offer their beer in cans. Out of state breweries with canned beer for sale in Michigan include Big Sky of Montana, Breckenridge of Colorado, Shiner of Texas, Brooklyn of New York, and Cucapa from Mexico, just to name a few. It is also worth noting that, in addition to what you already find on Siciliano's shelves, more quality imported canned beers are becoming available all the time.

Some might question the wisdom of packaging beers in aluminum cans. Won't the beer taste like metal, or worse? Well, the answer is simple: no. Modern aluminum cans with a neutral lining are being considered throughout the industry as a better package than the long-preferred glass bottles. The advantage of aluminum is complete protection from light and oxidation. Glass bottles, no matter how dark, will allow some light to get in. Even if it's only small percentage of UV light, a small percentage over a long enough time will still result in beer being "light-struck" (skunked). Since no light penetrates aluminum, you could theoretically leave a beer in the middle of the Sahara Desert for a year and it will not develop any characteristics of being light-stuck (though it might not be much good from the heat).

The other significant benefit of aluminum cans is that they are 100% enclosed with no seals that can experience degradation. With glass bottles, the cap and the occasional cork present a weakness for ensuring the stability of a beer by protecting it against oxidation. Cap seals can degrade over time allowing oxygen to slowly seep into the beer, creating papery, wet-cardboard, or sherry-like off-flavors in the beer. Degradation of the cap seal can be accelerated through repeated warming and cooling of bottles and intensified by wildly fluctuating temperatures.

Aside from better protection for your beer, cans also offer some fringe benefits. They are lighter and more compact than bottles which decreases freight costs and lessens oil consumption during transport. With regard to recycling, cans are the superior choice because the process for recycling aluminum is more efficient than it is for recycling glass. Some reports also indicate people are more likely to recycle cans than they are glass. Cans are also more break-resistant; whereas glass will often shatter when dropped, cans will just bounce or dent. Moreover, there are the recreational conveniences rendered by cans -- they cool more quickly than bottles and can be taken places where you can't take glass.

It might be difficult for some people to overcome their psychosomatic responses to canned beer and alter their affinity for glass containers. For those individuals, I invite them to perform a blind tasting of cans versus bottles with a beer that is available in both formats (such as some Big Sky, Shiner, and Brooklyn). Evaluate the appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, then provide overall impression of and preference between the two beers. The results could be surprising.

As canned beer becomes more prevalent in the craft beer world, embrace its presence and the beery goodness that lies within. The next time you're tubing down a river, dropping a line in the pond, catching some rays on the beach, or find yourself in a place where glass bottles might not be welcomed, grab up some cans of good craft beer, hold them high above the generic swill surrounding you, and enjoy.

Additional Reading:
  • Bottles vs Cans - An article about the benefits of canned beer
  • - An independent website dedicated to the news and reviews of canned craft beer.
  • - is a website dedicated to providing the latest beer information. This is specifically a link to all postings related to craft beer in cans.

Siciliano's staffer Greg Johnson has a real can-do attitude. He lives and brews on the west side of Grand Rapids, MI, where everything is aluminated.


  1. Great article Greg, I'm the kind of guy who likes drinking a great Craft Beer from a glass or mug. So, it makes no difference to me if it comes from a bottle or a can. It would be great to be able to bring my favorite craft beer where glass can not.
    May be you could mention it to Founders to can it's Red's Rye.

  2. Fantastic read Greg...I've always thought the 16oz can format for craft beer is ideal - there's all that room for great artwork! - such as that printed and packaged by Minnesota's Surly Brewing Co.

  3. Thanks Wes, and yes, I think the 16oz format is ideal.. The !2oz cans seem to lack presence on the shelf when next to bottles while the pint cans really demand attention, especially with graphic design. Surly and Sun King in Indianapolis have awesome looking pint cans and Vivant's new cans look like they will definitely distinct themselves on the shelf as well.